If you look at the picture of my newly elemental shaman to the right as I took him out of his first Karazhan run, you'll notice he's wearing a goodly amount of cloth. However, since this series would become impossibly long if I listed every possible leather and cloth drop that would be good for a shaman, I'm going to prioritize mail until the end of the series. If there's enough demand, I'll continue and conclude with a 'leather and cloth' post covering pieces that are good for a shaman. (The pieces I'm wearing there? They lack in MP5. Not all that great. You should have seen the crap I was wearing before this run.) I'm also going to try and avoid any badge gear that's superior to Karazhan level gear, because that kind of gear seems to me to be what people run Kara to be able to buy, not what they buy to be able to run Kara.
This is not meant to imply that leather or cloth aren't often 'best in slot' for a shaman. Please have mercy on my poor aching fingers which toil endlessly compiling such lists! I don't want to go on the cart! I feel happy! I feel happy!
Anyway, on to our gearing story.
Shields for carnage, shield for weal
There are two shaman specs that realistically use a shield enough for it to be included in this column, elemental and restoration shamans. Each spec looks for different things from a shield. Elemental shamans want shields to aid them in the unleashing of elemental devastation, while resto shamans are generally all about the healing mojo. So you get two very different kinds of shields shamans like.
You may want to consider bringing Spellbreaker's Buckler to Karazhan. It is a relatively easy (relatively, he says, remember that word) reward from the quest Akama's Promise which you could complete entirely within 5 man questing. Now, it's admittedly a very long questline, but you're guaranteed to get the shield when you're done with it, and it is a solid shield for going into Kara. If you'd rather spend your time farming Shadow Labyrinth, however, there's always the Silvermoon Crest Shield, from our old buddy Murmur. It looks exactly like the Spellbreaker's, if that's important to you. I'd say it's better than the Akama quest shield, with more int and MP5 which the Spellbreaker's lacks, but slightly less raw damage and no stam. If you just want to hit the AH and save some time, you can always get the Draenei Honor Guard Shield. It's got nice spell crit on it, which is nice for Elemental Focus, and a decent amount of spell damage, not as good as the previous shields. Finally, in the 'if you really need a shield badly and can't get a better one' category, there's the Netherwing Defender's Shield. It's a tankadin shield, make no mistake, but if you really need one it does have spell damage on it. It can also be useful to keep it in your bags in case you expect to get hit a lot for some reason.
Epic choices for the elemental shaman at this level come down to two: a rep reward and a badge reward, either of which you'll probably replace with a drop in the instance itself. There's the Sunward Crest, which again is more of a tankadin shield than an elemental. Still, if you're grinding the rep anyway, it's got good spell damage and good 'please don't kill me' stats. If you have badges burning a hole in your bank, you can always do what I did and buy the Mazthoril Honor Shield. It's a solid performer with stam, int, spell crit and spell damage, but I'll probably still replace it with the Dragonheart Flameshield once it finally drops off of Nightbane. For now, though, the Honor Shield serves me well. If I'd thought more about it I'd probably have just made do with the Sunward Crest, but I wasn't exalted on my shammy when the choice was made. (Being newly elemental, I had to play catch up on my gear.)
For resto, the shield choices are different, of course. I'm going to assume you don't have access to the Shield of Condemnation from Naxx. If you do, just take it to Kara. It's incredible for the iLevel. If not for its low stats, it would beat the drop in Kara. For raw healing power, it does. But you'll want the big whack of stats from the Triptych. Anyway, assuming that you weren't in a Naxx guild that took a lot of time off or that you don't run Naxx now for fun, your options for heading into Kara are somewhat slim in two rares and a badge epic.
You're probably going to get the Crystal Pulse Shield. It's almost always on the AH, it's a solid choice for a healer, and you don't need to run a single instance or do a single quest: you can have it waiting in the bank for you to hit 70, even. It's a good choice for a healing shaman, with solid +heal and MP5. If you like, you can then run heroic Underbog for the Stormshield of Renewal. With more healing (of the shields we're discussing here, only the Naxx shield has more) and decent stats, it's a solid choice for you to heal with.
Finally, if you have 33 badges you just hate the sight of, there's the Light-Bearer's Faith Shield. It's basically the Stomshield mark II, with almost as much +heal and better stats. But the lack of MP5 makes me prefer the Crystal Pulse until the epic inside the instance drops. Still, there's no reason not to have a couple of shields, one for long fights and one for more raw +heal, so these are your pre-Kara options.
Bearing the weight of the raid on your shoulders
Yay, shoulder armor! Possibly the biggest PITA in the game, shoulder options always seem the hardest to come across. For a resto shaman, there are basically three mail options before Karazhan: the Seer's Ringmail Shoulders, the Gladiator's Ringmail Shoulders, and the Mantle of the Sea Wolf. The Mantle of the Sea Wolf drops in a heroic (Mana-Tombs, to be exact) and of the three options have the best raw +heal and other PvE stats, which would make them my choice for healing shoulders over the two PvP sets. However, I could never get them to drop, so for the entirety of my healing-in-Karazhan career I wore the Gladiator shoulders. They served well enough with decent stats for a healing shaman. The Seer's aren't as good, but you don't need to set foot in a BG to acquire them, which means if you just hit 70 and plan on doing some healing you can grab them and start working towards one of the other two options. I'll be honest: you're probably going to wear cloth in this slot to heal, and it's one of the slots I'll be revisiting in my 'leather and cloth' post. But if you're a stickler for mail, these are your options.
For elemental shamans, we have slightly more options. In addition to the PvP options (Gladiator's Mail Spaulders, Seer's Mail Spaulders) there are options like the Lightning Rod Pauldrons from regular Mana Tombs, the Otherworldly Pauldrons from Netherstorm questing, the Volcanic Pauldrons from heroic Hellfire Ramparts, the Tidefury Shoulderguards from Shattered Halls regular (and heroic, if you're so inclined) and my favorites for pure looks, the Pauldrons of Wild Magic. The PvP rewards lack in pure PvE stats but are serviceable enough and can help extend your survivability if you find it lacking in other areas. I personally prefer the Pauldrons of Wild Magic and would love it if the things would finally drop.
Finally, for the enhancement among us, what are their shoulder options? Well, if you wanted strength on a mail piece of shoulder armor and you weren't looking to PvP rewards or Tier 4, then your only option would be the Lightning Rod Pauldrons. Seriously, that's it. See for yourself. This is one of the many times where enhancement shamans are forced to either wear hunter mail that's not optimally itemized for themselves, or turn to feral/rogue leather to fill their needs.
If you're choosing AP mail for your enhancement shaman before Kara, your options are Hunter Set Piece shoulders, ugly no-stats shoulders, re-used Hunter Tier 1 shoulders or re-used Hunter Tier 2 shoulders. Or you can get Desolation if for some reason you feel really light on hit. As you can see, if you want to stay with mail, you're almost obliged to get the PvP gear, as it at least has the stats you actually want on it.
I know I said I wouldn't list leather or cloth in this post, but the sad state of enhancement mail kind of compels me to mention these Aldor quest reward shoulders: Cleansed Fel Pauldrons. They're pretty solid for an enhancement shaman, if you're looking for str over AP. (That much str is 68 attack power, which alone makes these shoulder superior to almost all of the mail pieces I listed.)
Finally, there's these. I felt like I had to mention them. No, I've never worn them. I honest don't know why I would, I've never felt like I needed that much MP5 on my shoulder slot compared to other stats. But there they are, they're mail, and you can wear them if you want to. In all seriousness, if you're really lacking in MP5, you may want to pick these up.
What to wear on your hands? Well, if you're an elemental shaman you're probably going to want that sweet, sweet spell damage so that you can throw lightning at people. There are quite a few options for you.
The usual PvP suspects, of course. Beyond these, there are the solid Stormfront Gauntlets from both normal and heroic Old Hillsbrad. I like sockets on my gear, for pure customization. If you want to hit the AH and get going you can grab the Thundercaller's Gauntlets. No sockets, but solid stats overall. As for myself, I ended up with like three pairs of Earth Mantle Handwarps from Steamvaults runs, the things seem to drop like candy and they are very solid elemental choices. Finally, heroic Ramparts brings you the Wrath Infused Gauntlets, which are very very nice and it's a shame you can't really farm for them.
For healing, yes, Virginia, you can get the PvP gloves. I hate feeling like I'm giving them less coverage, but what's to say? "Wasted itemization on stam and resil, but good if you can't get better or need boosted survivability" gets old after a while. These are solid choices, mind you, they're just not ideal for the task. But since your other mail healing options are a drop off of a boss in an instance that only dropped almost a year after Karazhan, the Fathomheart Gauntlets from Kalithresh in Steamvaults, or badge gear that's probably superior to Karazhan drops (which I'm trying to stay away from) then you really do have to consider the PvP set pieces as options.
For enhancement, if you can craft them or get them crafted, get the Windstrike gloves. They have the Str you want, and a whole whack of stats besides. Yes, they look dumb. Get them anyway. In fact, they may be better for PvE dps than anything you could possibly get before or even in Karazhan. They're certainly comparable with Tier 4, with more raw AP (lacking in Int that I don't think most enhancement are going to miss) and almost as much hit. In my opinion the Windstrike's are better than either PvP option as well for PvE dps. The only problems with having them made or making them are the cost... they're not cheap... and if you do, you're basically not going to upgrade unless you're going for a set bonus or buying a badge item. Still, I couldn't in good conscience not mention them, as I believe they're the best possible enhancement option you can acquire before you set foot in Karazhan. Other options are Netherdrake Gauntlets (also crafted, not as good for a shammy in my eyes), Handguards of the Steady from heroic Mechanar, Crystalhide Handwraps from the Apexis grind, often found in the AH (I'm really not that hot on these gloves), the Felfury Gauntlets which are the blacksmithing option (and again, not quite as good as the Windstrikes in my opinion). Besides all these, there are several rares that can serve until you get one of these or a Kara upgrade, including Artor's Mainstay from a questline you'll probably want to do anyway, the Hungarhide Gauntlets from heroic Underbog, the Gauntlets of the Redeemed Vindicator from the same quest as the Cleansed Fel Pauldrons (get the Pauldrons, forget these), the Beast Lord Handguards if you really enjoy irritating hunters and wasting a set bonus, and the Gauntlets of Desolation for a nice enough dose of AP and a decent set bonus if you're feeling low on hit.
I'd go with the Windstrike's over each and every other option listed, btw, but I wanted to at least try and give you some choices.
Next week: chestplates, leg armor, helmets, oh my! Also weapons, trinkets and necklaces, although that might be in two weeks. We'll see how long this all gets.