Race: When it comes to selecting a race in 4E, the first thing I look at (again) is the At-Will powers of the class. Are there more than two of them which use the same stat? If so, I seriously consider going with human.
Humans have a lot of things going for them, but chief among them (in my opinion) is that they get to chose a third At-Will class power. As I mentioned earlier, the At-Wills are really at the heart of the class experience. Going from two to three of them can really improve that experience.
The other benefits of humanity are not bad either. A +2 ability bonus, which will be going straight into Intelligence, of course. A bonus feat, which is always handy. A bonus skill, which is handy every once in a while. And a bonus to the non-AC defences, which is always helpful.
There’s one other thing which almost single-handedly makes playing humans worthwhile: the heroic feat Action Surge. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Action Points, it’s that when you spend one, you’re going to want whatever it is you’re doing on that extra standard action to work. It only helps about once every two encounters, but it’s help when you need it most.
At this point, I know I’ve got a human swordmage with Aegis of Assault. Before I get to the specifics of ability scores, I should probably nail down the rest of my powers.
The swordmage chooses from four At-Wills, so I’m choosing one not to take as much as anything. The one that sticks out as not matching my strategy is Booming Blade, which hurts an adjacent enemy if he runs away.
In the swordmage-as-defender sense, Booming Blade is a good choice. But by taking Aegis of Assault, my swordmage is becoming the sort of defender who believes the best defence is a strong offence. With Aegis of Assault, I don’t want to discourage my enemies from running away from me — I want them to run off and take a swing at the wizard.
That leaves me with Greenflame Blade, Lightning Lure, and Sword Burst. Greenflame Blade is a good solid choice — it’s a Melee weapon power, so I’m starting to think choice of weapon is going to be important. The other good reason to get a decent weapon is that Aegis of Assault gives me a free basic melee attack. Greenflame Blade also deals some collateral damage based on my Strength modifier, so I’m going to want at least a +1 in that.
Sword Burst is a good solid Close Burst 1 attack, which means I’ll have something to do if and when I get surrounded. I’ll also have something useful to do against swarms. And it targets Reflex, which is a good option to have.
I wasn’t terribly keen on Lightning Lure when I built my swordmage. It seemed like it might very occasionally be handy. In the course of play, I discovered how wrong I was.
For an encounter power, I picked up Flame Cyclone, a Close Blast 3 attack. A bit more ranged ability and a bit more minion-sweeping ability seemed like a good idea at the time.
For the daily, I picked Frost Backlash. I could go on about how it matched my thematic conception of the character, but the truth of the matter is that it’s the one that does the most damage. And it’s a Melee weapon attack versus Reflex, which is as good as a +3 to hit much of the time.
With the powers squared away, it was time to get to the ability scores.