In a recent thread on the shaman forums, I got called out. Not in any terrible "you're the worst enhancement shaman in the world and you hate your mother!" sort of way, but I got told I haven't done a good enough job explaining why we use the weapon imbues that we do. There's some definite truth to that; in the past, I've advocated Flametongue/Flametongue setups over Windfury/Flametongue without ever explaining why they're better, just that they are.
With that in mind, I'm changing things up this week. Part of this is because I want to address a concern brought to me by a reader; part of it is because I've been 11/12 in raid content for over a month and don't want to do a raid strategy guide until we actually kill Nefarian (who is a really, really big jerk). The third part of it is because imbues are one of the most integral parts of playing a shaman and one of our real definitive features as a class. Understanding them is crucial to understanding the class as a whole!
Winning with windfury
Windfury Weapon is the iconic enhancement ability. Every swing you take with the weapon you imbued gives you a 20% chance to proc a spinning tornado of death around your body while you hit your opponent with three buffed melee attacks. Beyond being awesome just for the sheer damage it can put out, the extra attacks from Windfury Weapon can proc almost everything a normal attack can proc. Flurry and Primal Wisdom are some examples, but the huge benefit comes in Maelstrom Weapon. The auto attack that procs Windfury and the three Windfury attacks can all proc Maelstrom Weapon, stacking it like pancakes at an IHOP. Finally, Unleash Wind is a good ability in its own right, doing moderate damage and buffing our melee haste.
Playing with fire
Flametongue Weapon is possibly a better imbue than Windfury, if such a thing exists. Flametongue Weapon's first huge benefit is the 747 spell damage boost it gives at max level. That is a hefty amount of spellpower, giving about one-htird of the spellpower given by heroic caster weapons like Andoros, Fist of the Dragon King. This benefits a lot of the damage we put out, from Lightning Shield and Lightning Bolt to Shocks and Unleash Weapon -- and that isn't all of it. Beyond that, Flametongue is mandatory for achieving top damage with our hardest-hitting ability, Lava Lash. 40% more damage on Lava Lash is huge and shouldn't be skipped. We also really like Unleash Flame, which makes our next Flame Shock do nice damage.
As for the actual damage Flametongue does, it's no small amount. Patch 4.0.6 nerfed Flametongue's damage by 20% because it was too good and encouraged double Flametongue setups. It also changed Flametongue to now work off an attack power coefficient rather than a spellpower coefficient, to try and prevent caster main-hand effectiveness. The damage it does is still good, however.
The important thing to remember about Flametongue Weapon is that its damage scales with weapon speed. It is designed to do more damage per proc with a 2.6 speed weapon than a 1.4 speed weapon, further pushing us into the "slow/slow is ideal" mindset. Finally, though mostly irrelevant now, Flametongue has a small ICD attached to it. In most scenarios you'll never notice the internal cooldown. However, if you ever try using two 2.6 speed weapons with FT/FT, you'll realize quickly that it isn't a good idea when half of your weapon attacks don't proc Flametongue.
Frostbrand -- how does it work?
Frostbrand Weapon is a different beast than our other friends. We don't use Frostbrand Weapon for high damage, but instead because it provides a valuable slow on our opponents. While it's true that we already have a slow in the form of Frost Shock, Frostbrand Weapon is undispellable. Unleash Frost does respectable damage and further slows the target, on par with the speed reduction from a rogue's Crippling Poison.
One of the big things to remember about Frostbrand Weapon is that it is a proc-per-minute mechanic, which means you will proc the same number of Frostbrands per minute with a slow weapons as you would with a fast weapon. The number of procs per minute is roughly nine. This makes Frostbrand fit in nicely to our slow weapon gearing strategy.
What imbues should you use?
For PvE, you're always going to want to go Windfury main hand with Flametongue off hand. It doesn't matter how much you love your spinning tornado of doom animation; having your off-hand imbued with Windfury will kill your DPS as your main-hand Windfury procs get consumed by the internal cooldown. Frostbrand is absolutely useless because of boss immunities, so Flametongue is the way to go.
As for PvP, Rouncer from Elitist Jerks wrote an excellent theorycrafting post about PvP weapon imbues. From the data he found, Flametongue looks to always be the best PvP off-hand imbue. No matter what your main-hand imbue is, you want Flametongue on your off-hand. Windfury is the best imbue from a pure damage perspective with an agility main-hand, though Flametongue weapon is a nice choice for a main-hand imbue against heavily armored characters. (Remember, though, you can't have two same-speed weapons with FT/FT.) You'll get the most use out of your main-hand imbues if you learn to twist them based on what is needed for the moment.
Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk: Enhancement every week. We've got enhancement-specific advice on rep gear, heroic gear, and raiding gear, plus tips on maximizing your utility skills and tactics for raiding Blackwing Descent.