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The Best Races for Mages in Skyrim (2024)

The Elder Scrolls games are all about playing what you want, how you want. Some people enjoy creating goofy, nonsensical characters and bumbling their way through the main quest. Others look for ways to “break” the game with extremely powerful characters. Each playable race in Skyrim starts with unique abilities and bonuses, giving us a variety of options for ways to approach the game. Today, we’re taking a look at the best races for mages in Skyrim!

Best Mage Races in Skyrim

For this guide, we’re going to focus on creating a mage character with good skill synergies so you can be effective in combat. We’ll also take a look at where each race fits within the game’s lore. But as in any RPG, you should play whatever you enjoy. Tamriel is a big place with a lot of different people in it, and you can be whoever you want to be. If you want to be an Orc pickpocket who is obsessed with soul trapping rabbits, go for it!

Breton (Summoner)

Kicking off our list of the best races for mages in Skyrim are the Bretons. Bretons stand at the crossroads of the human and elf races, as descendants of both. They are outsiders to Skyrim, hailing from neighboring High Rock, but they are not treated with as much suspicion as elves or Imperials. Breton NPCs in Skyrim are mostly court wizards, college mages, and merchants. They also make up a faction known as the Forsworn, an aggressive tribe of barbarians who are native to the Reach.

Stats and Gameplay

  • Skills Bonuses: +10 Conjuration, +5 Alchemy, +5 Alteration, +5 Illusion, +5 Restoration, +5 Speech
  • Starting Spells: Conjure Familiar (Conjuration), Flames (Destruction), Healing (Restoration)
  • Abilities: Dragonskin (absorb 50% of Magicka from hostile spells for 60 seconds), Magic Resistance (25% resistance to magic)

Bretons start out with bonuses to most of the mage skills as well as the spell Conjure Familiar. Their substantial Conjuration bonus also allows you to learn Apprentice level spells as soon as you can find their spell tomes. This includes Soul Trap, which makes it easy to level Enchanting as well, even though Bretons don’t get a bonus to that skill.

You also do not get a bonus to Destruction as a Breton, encouraging you to focus on your conjured minions and bound weapons as a means of dealing damage. Luckily, this is a really strong combination. Bound weapons deal damage equivalent to daedric weapons and are weightless. However, using them effectively will require you to level the appropriate weapon skill in addition to your mage skills.

Magic Resistance is an incredibly powerful racial ability. By stacking this with other resistance effects, it’s possible to make a character that is completely immune to enemy spells.

High Elf (Illusionist)

The High Elves, or Altmer, are from the Summerset Isles, far from Skyrim. They are generally looked upon with disdain if not outright hatred by the Nords due to the long history of conflict between the Empire and the Aldmeri Dominion. Very few High Elves are found living in Skyrim, usually as nobles or shopkeepers. They appear more commonly as hostile spell casters or as members of the Thalmor, an elite faction seeking to stamp out the worship of Talos. There are no High Elf followers and only one High Elf character available for marriage.

Stats and Gameplay

  • Skill Bonuses: +10 Illusion, +5 Alteration, +5 Conjuration, +5 Destruction, +5 Enchanting, +5 Restoration
  • Starting Spells: Fury (Illusion), Flames (Destruction), Healing (Restoration)
  • Abilities: Highborn (regenerate Magicka faster for 60 seconds), Fortify Magicka (increase Magicka by 50 points)

High Elves are quintessential mages, as their skill bonuses cover all of the mage skills. Their racial abilities provide two very strong bonuses to Magicka, making their spell casting resource pool a lot deeper than other races right out of the gate.

High Elves start with the Fury spell, and their large bonus to Illusion allows them to learn Apprentice-level Illusion spells early on. Illusion spells don’t deal any damage, but offer unique utility that can lead to some very interesting gameplay, such as causing enemies to stop fighting or to fight each other, or granting you quieter movement or even total invisibility.

Dark Elf (Destroyer)

The Dark Elves, or Dunmer, are native to Morrowind, which they fled after the eruption of Red Mountain during the events of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. As a race of immigrants, they are subject to a lot of racism within Skyrim, particularly in the city of Windhelm, where they reside in large numbers in The Gray Quarter. Dark Elves are also found throughout Skyrim as merchants, mages, thieves, and mercenaries, and make up the bulk of the population of the city of Raven Rock in Solstheim.

Stats and Gameplay

  • Skill Bonuses: +10 Destruction, +5 Alchemy, +5 Alteration, +5 Illusion, +5 Light Armor, +5 Sneak
  • Starting Spells: Sparks (Destruction), Flames (Destruction), Healing (Restoration)
  • Abilities: Ancestor’s Wrath (for 60 seconds, nearby opponents take 8 points per second of fire damage), Resist Fire (50% fire resistance)

If you want to simply blow people up with your spells, Dark Elf is the way to go. They are Destruction experts, starting the game with an extra spell, Sparks, and a skill bonus that allows you to learn Apprentice-level Destruction spells faster than other races. Dark Elves also get to deal some extra fire damage once per day with their Ancestor’s Wrath ability. Be careful when using it, though, since it also affects any neutral NPCs that are within range.

Dark Elves have no bonuses to Conjuration, Enchanting, or Restoration, but they do have a bonus to Alchemy, allowing you to replicate some of the effects offered by Enchanting or Restoration.

Because of their bonuses to Sneak and Light Armor, Dark Elves can make solid mage-thief hybrids. They’re also a great choice for vampires, as their racial fire resistance cancels out one of the downsides of vampirism.

Imperial (Cleric)

Next up on this list of the best races for mages in Skyrim, we have the Imperials. This race of humans hails from Cyrodiil, Skyrim’s southern neighbor and the province that featured in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Skyrim is currently at war with Cyrodiil, and many of the Imperials found within Skyrim are Imperial soldiers who are there to fight against the Stormcloaks. They can also commonly be found around the province working as merchants, farmers, mercenaries, and tradesmen. Despite the war, Imperials seem to be met with less suspicion than elves, who have a longer history of conflict with the Nords.

Stats and Gameplay

  • Skill Bonuses: +10 Restoration, +5 Block, +5 Destruction, +5 Enchanting, +5 Heavy Armor, +5 One-Handed
  • Starting Spells: Flames (Destruction), Healing (Restoration)
  • Abilities: Voice of the Emperor (calms nearby humanoids for 60 seconds), Imperial Luck (find extra gold in chests, etc.)

Imperials make for strong mage-warrior hybrids due to their bonuses to the Block, Heavy Armor, and One-Handed skills. They can also be effective as pure mages.

The Imperial’s high Restoration bonus makes Apprentice-level spells learnable right out of the gate. These include Fast Healing and Healing Hands, the latter of which allows you to heal other characters — very useful for fighting alongside follower NPCs.

Imperials don’t have any bonuses to Alteration, Illusion, or Conjuration, but many of the effects of Alteration and Illusion can be replicated through Enchanting, which they do have a bonus to.

Redguard (Spellsword)

Redguards come from Hammerfell, and are relatively rare in Skyrim, where they usually work as warriors, mercenaries, and thieves. They seem to have largely stayed out of politics and conflict within Tamriel, and are not viewed with as much suspicion within Skyrim as some of the other races.

Stats and Gameplay

  • Skill Bonuses: +10 One-Handed, +5 Alteration, +5 Archery, +5 Block, +5 Destruction, +5 Smithing
  • Starting Spells: Flames (Destruction), Healing (Restoration)
  • Abilities: Adrenaline Rush (Stamina regenerates 10x faster for 60 seconds), Resist Poison (50% poison resistance)

Redguards are best suited to warrior-mage hybrid builds, with their strongest skill being One-Handed. With a weapon in one hand and a spell in the other, they excel in combat. Their Alteration skill bonus helps make up for their lack of armor skill, allowing you to learn Oakflesh and its more powerful variants to increase your defenses. An optimal approach would be to cast a defensive spell and then switch to a shield to also take advantage of the Redguard’s Block skill. This defensive approach will also help to balance out the Redguard’s lack of Restoration or Alchemy skills for healing.

Argonian (Trickster)

Argonians are from Black Marsh, and are one of the rarer races in Skyrim. There is a small enclave of Argonians living in Windhelm, where they bunk together in the Argonian Assemblage at the city docks, having been forced there by segregation. They can occasionally be found in other cities and towns as merchants and miners.

Stats and Gameplay

  • Skill Bonuses: +10 Lockpicking, +5 Light Armor, +5 Alteration, +5 Pickpocket, +5 Restoration, +5 Sneak
  • Starting Spells: Flames (Destruction), Healing (Restoration)
  • Abilities: Histskin (recover Health 10x faster for 60 seconds), Resist Disease (50% disease resistance), Waterbreathing (breathe underwater)

Argonians are best suited to a thief-mage hybrid build, using their Alteration and Restoration skill bonuses to complement their Lockpicking, Pickpocket, and Sneak skills. They lack any sort of combat skills and are better suited to thieving and exploring. When they must fight, their Light Armor, Alteration, and Restoration skills give them a lot of defensive options along with their Histskin ability.

Unfortunately, Argonians will need to build up another skill to actually deal damage to enemies. Their unarmed fists deal a little extra damage due to their claws, but it still doesn’t compare to actual weapons. One-Handed is a good choice for a thief, letting you take advantage of your Sneak skill to get close and land powerful sneak attacks.

Other Races

The other playable races of Skyrim have little to offer for mages. That doesn’t mean you can’t choose to play them anyway, of course!


Nords have no bonuses whatsoever to any of the mage skills, and they like it that way. The native people of Skyrim are suspicious of magic, perhaps because they associate it with elves, with whom they have been in conflict for a very long time. Nords are the most populous race in Skyrim and can be found just about everywhere.


Orcs have a small bonus to Enchanting, but nothing that directly aids with spell casting. They are a race of hardened warriors, living mainly in strongholds dotted across the map, where they only admit other orcs and those who have proven themselves to be friends.


Khajiits have no bonuses to magic skills either. Their speciality is thievery, and the people of Skyrim tend to see them as criminals. Khajiits hail from Elsweyr, a distant jungle province, and are rare in Skyrim. They are most often found in caravans, either camped out at the entrances to major cities or traveling in between them.

Wood Elf

Wood Elves, like Khajiits, are more inclined to thievery than magic. Hailing from Valenwood, a distant forest province, they are uncommon in Skyrim. They tend to work in jobs that will keep them outdoors, such as hunters, lumberjacks, and farmers.

Join the High Ground!

That’s it for our list of the best races for mages in Skyrim — thanks for reading! We hope this guide has helped you plan your next mage character. Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for more content like this.

Happy gaming!


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