I spent the last week doing three things in game. One was getting my Death Knight up to 80 and getting him defense capped for tanking, but I'm sure none of you care about that. The second thing was running Ulduar 25 on my warrior and Ulduar 10 on my shaman. My shaman eschewed his usual "DPS as Enhancement or heal as Restoration" mindset this week due to the lack of our usual Elemental Shaman, who is quite frankly a far, far better caster Shaman than I am or will ever be. But babies wanted their Elemental Oath so I bit the bullet and respecced. (Admittedly, in a 10 man run with 1 rogue, 1 feral druid tank, one paladin tank, two priest healers, and three warlocks and a mage, my Elemental Oath was pretty useful. Holy casters, Batman.)
My experience with Elemental was that, even with way too much cloth caster gear and a pair of resto boots, it can do tolerable (low, but tolerable) damage. Were I geared properly I'd have done much better, I'm sure, but that doesn't mean there aren't issues with the spec. It just means that I'm not a very good Elemental Shaman. However, even as a poor caster, I do feel that the arguments of the actual Elemental Shamans i've seen have some merit, and we've discussed them to some degree in the past weeks.
To wit, the design of caster mail has to become more varied: that is to say, there needs to be more of it without MP5 and with stats like haste, crit or even hit that benefit Elemental as well as Resto, perhaps putting haste and crit ahead of hit if you're insistent that caster mail needs to be usable by as many caster Shamans as possible - I personally think a few pieces with hit would be nice just to make it less attractive to Holy Paladins. If this is untenable for some reason, then some element of the Shaman design needs to be rethought to bring gearing needs for Elemental and Restoration closer together. I suggested spirit last week, but that was just one suggestion and possibility.
When you look at the most recent changes on the PTR (this list won't contain the sweeping restoration changes and other previously noted patch 3.2 information, but that's what we have an archive for) we notice that at this point almost all the changes are refinements and tooltip corrections.
A customizable totem bar will now be available for shamans allowing the storing of 4 different totems. These totems can be placed on the ground at once in one global cooldown for the combined mana cost of all 4 totems. The naming scheme of the spells to summon the different totem sets has been changed to make it less confusing for players:
- Call of Fire (Totem Bar 1, the first one gained at level 30) is now named Call of the Elements.
- Call of Water (Totem Bar 2) is now named Call of the Ancestors.
- Call of Fire (Totem Bar 3) is now named Call of the Spirits.
- Call of Earth (the spell to recall all summoned totems) is now named Totemic Recall.
- Elemental Devastation: Tooltip revised to indicate it does not work with critical strikes from periodic damage.
- Elemental Focus: Tooltip revised to indicate it does not work with critical strikes from periodic damage.
- Elemental Oath: Tooltip revised to indicate it does not work with critical strikes from periodic damage.
- Flametongue Weapon: Fixed tooltip error.
- Frostbrand Weapon: Fixed a bug where rank 9 was not scaling properly with a shaman's spell power.
This leads me to wonder about other possibilities, however. If you've ever done General Vezax you may know that one of the more unconventional ways to heal the fight is in, of all things, Enhancement spec. Since normal means of mana recovery are impossible during the fight, one way to go is to spec Enhancement, put on as much caster mail without MP5 as you can find, equip a caster weapon in your main hand and Earthliving on both and effectively, melee Vezax. You won't do a ton of DPS, but with the tank as a focus target you can effectively heal him while constantly rebuilding mana with Improved Stormstrike and Shamanistic Rage. The other benefit of this is that you can use Chain Heal instantly thanks to Maelstrom Weapon to heal the raid as well.
My only real difficulty with this approach was finding enough gear that lacked MP5, since MP5 is absolutely useless in the Vezax fight. But it got me to thinking in terms that might not really be of tenable utility as far as patch 3.2 (or even patch 3.3) is concerned. Why not embrace the hybridization of the Shaman class even further?
Elemental Shamans are, as far as I can tell, the only caster DPS who use a shield. While the shield provides a great deal of armor and thus is a nice boost to survivability, let's consider taking the dual wielding nature of the Enhancement Shaman, and the Enhancement Shamans's gear selection, and making it attractive to Elemental. Imagine if rather than using spell power at all, Elemental Shamans converted attack power to spell power directly. (It would also be necessary to come up with a use for Agility for them.) Since Elemental already has talents like Elemental Focus and Unrelenting Storm, they have a similar 'regenerate mana while doing damage' operation that could easily be adapted, and more importantly if Elemental used the same gear as Enhancement they would no longer have to wear caster shaman gear that is loaded with MP5 they don't want or need. Since stats like crit, haste, and hit are all unified now, the only useless stat on Enhancement mail would be Armor Pen.
The down side would be mana pools: Enhancement mail would not provide nearly as much mana as most Elemental Shamans are accustomed to. The Elementals I usually run with have at least 18 to 19k mana (granted, we're talking Ulduar 10 or 25 geared people) and the 6 to 7k mana I see in my Enhancement set wouldn't be of much use. A talent that turned Agility into a mana pool might be one way around this, as could just increasing the amount of mana per int, but you'd have to balance that very very carefully.
I make this suggestion knowing there's lot of problems with it, of course. (That's what's great about you guys, I can count on you to find them. All of them. Every single last solitary one of them.) My wife, who plays a Hunter, was (to put it mildly) not happy with this idea at all.
In the future, if I can round them all up, we'll be doing a roundtable discussion of the Shaman class from among our various Shaman players here at WoW.com. So there's that to look forward to.