Ah, the Pick Up Group. Long a staple of our gameplay in WoW, patch 3.3 revolutionized the way we do it with the new dungeon finder, giving us incentives to put up with fury warriors who rush the tank, ret paladins who forget to turn Righteous Fury off, and runs consisting of two DK's, a paladin, a warrior and a shaman where people ask the shaman if he's tanking. (Hint, he wasn't.) Other things the shaman will not be doing in a PUG include making a summoning portal, a mage table (it's got mage in the name what is wrong with you), casting combat res on the tank when he dies, summoning Army of the Dead (seriously, I can understand being frustrated that someone cast that and it dragged the trash around, but shamans do not generally summon forth armies of walking corpses), washing your laundry (that's just gross), making a pinhole camera, performing a complicated medley of Andrew Lloyd Webber's greatest showtunes (unless you catch me in a really good mood), or casting Divine Intervention.
Sure, I realize these are all fine things, and it's a shame that the shaman or shamans in your group won't be able to do them. That being said, shamans do bring all sorts of fun things to PUG's. Things like hybrid magical/physical DPS, caster DPS, or healing, a plethora of totem buffs, a cornucopia of ancillary benefits like Unleashed Rage, Totem of Wrath, and of course Sentry Totem. I know that's really why you bring us, it's okay.
I promise we'll drop Sentry Totem when you ask us for it. Oh, and we could cast Bloodlust or Heroism, but you guys probably don't even care about that stuff. I mean, not when all of your thoughts are probably consumed wondering just when the best time to drop Sentry Totem is.
Okay, now that we've had the funny, we'll get serious. How can you bring your best effort as a shaman in a PUG?
For starters, please be honest about what you can and can't do in a group. If you're a resto shaman but you have a couple of elemental pieces you got because no one else wanted them and want to go DPS, cool, but if you end up in a heroic Halls of Reflection and you're putting out less than 1k DPS, don't be terribly surprised when people get upset. (For all I know, you put out 4k DPS while AFK using the bathroom because you're secretly William Wallace, but I'm just saying.) Likewise, if you sign up as a healer to get into a PUG faster, please be geared and specced to heal. I'm not saying full T10 or go home, I'm just saying you probably can't heal a heroic just by slapping Earthliving on your Golden Saronite Dragon. Except for you, Mr. Wallace.
Secondly, please remember your totems. I'm not just saying remember to drop your totems, although that certainly would be nice. I'm also saying, if you're in a group with two shamans, or a paladin or death knight or someone else who replicates a buff you supply, make sure to coordinate. There's no point to dropping SoE totem if the DK's got Horn of Winter covered already, and the group could then benefit from Stoneskin or Tremor. As an example, if you happen to be running Drak'Tharon Keep on heroic in a group with an enhancement, elemental and restoration shaman, and you are fighting King Dred, it really makes no sense at all to wipe because absolutely no one dropped a Tremor Totem. Not that I know anyone that this has happened to. Because I don't, and that Sentry Totem didn't see anything of the sort.
Thirdly, don't just randomly cast Bloodlust/Heroism because you're bored. Even if you're really, really bored. You never know when you'll do that and then find yourself in a tense pull gone wrong and that Bloodlust might have saved the day. Or just gotten you killed faster.
Fourthly, be aware of the changes to certain shaman abilities in patch 3.3 that we discussed last week. Our elemental totems are far more accessible now, so don't shy away from dropping big red on a boss. Also, don't forget to cast Fire Nova when a pulse would do a solid chunk of AoE damage. Heck, you can combine the two and have your fire elemental running around while his/her/its (hey, I'm sorry, but I did not take the class in 'how to determine elemental's genders') totem also pulses damage. I have a friend who giggles hysterically in AoE situations now, dropping Magma and hitting Fire Nova for up to 10k DPS for a few glorious seconds on the trash pulls in Pit of Saron. And while it's true that in a good PUG you shouldn't need to Reincarnate more often, you still can.
Much of this comes down to common sense, of course. Shamans are fortunate in that they can be either healing or DPS at a time that healing is at a premium, of course. But it's good to keep in mind abilities like Hex, Earthbind, Frost Shock, Wind Shear, Cleansing Totem and others are mostly not spec specific. Any shaman can drop a Cleansing Totem or a Tremor Totem, even a DPS shaman, to help out with poison volleys and fears and so on.
Shamans have a ridiculously wide toolkit, and while running a PUG it benefits the run if even the most focused DPS minded shaman is willing to sacrifice a little of that DPS to do things that buff and cleanse the group. You'd be amazed the runs I've done where a DPS shaman outright refused to drop a Cleansing Totem to help out with Hadronox or Skadi, for example. Putting a shaman's spell interrupt off onto its own cooldown with Wind Shear wasn't done so we could forget we had one. Make a focus macro if you have to, but don't just ignore the Purge button because it means you'd have to switch targets (as a healing shaman, I hate having to purge Nether Power, but sometimes I'm the only one in the 10 man who can do it). Basically, as a shaman, you often have a solution to a strange problem. Please don't forget or refuse to use them.
Check out more strategies, tips and leveling guides for Shamans in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column: Totem Talk.