I am an unrepentant altaholic. In Wrath of the Lich King, I had seven level-capped characters. When Cataclysm came, I had some strange idea that I would work on those level 80 characters and get them to level 85. Instead of going that practical route, I'm currently in the middle of leveling both a warrior and a hunter ... both of which I already have at level 80. Cataclysm leveling is just that cool.
One of my favorite parts about the revamped old world is that the bosses of instances have been retuned for post-4.0 DPS levels. In previous expansions, boss fights would last mere seconds. This made it a horrible gauge for DPS, as burst specs would always win out and didn't help you learn your rotation. Now that the dungeons have been retuned and fights can last up to a minute, it is worth taking the time to take a look at your priority system for leveling.
The first ability we need to take a look at is Lava Lash. As most people who have read this column since I took it over know, Lava Lash is our highest-priority attack at level 85. It hits like a truck loaded with explosives that collided with Chuck Norris' fist. It's also the spec-defining ability for enhancement, with you gaining access to it at level 10.
Unfortunately, when you get it at level 10, Lava Lash is not an exceptionally good ability. Like a fine wine or Anderson Cooper, it ages well. At level 10, you don't have a single prime glyph slot, meaning no Glyph of Lava Lash yet for 20% more damage. Additionally, you don't get access to Improved Lava Lash until at least level 59, meaning that you're missing out on a base 30% damage and the extra 50% you get from a five-stack of Searing Flames. Luckily, you do have access to Flametongue Weapon by that point, making Lava Lash an attack that hits for 240% weapon damage, affected by the 50% off-hand penalty.
Stormstrike and Primal Strike suffers a similar fate, which is part of the reason heirloom weapons for melee are so potent. Primal Strike will be your second priority attack while leveling, with Lava Lash coming third. This is because Primal Strike gets 45% more damage with your first three talent points, spent at levels 10, 11, and 13. It also deals main-hand damage, so 100% of your weapon damage as well as being the target of more weapon upgrades. You generally want to upgrade your main-hand first, both due to Lava Lash's poor showing at low levels and because you want the increase in main-hand autoattack damage.
At level 29, Primal Strike is forever removed from your bars in place of Stormstrike. You get access to Stormstrike at level 29 and then immediately start putting points in Static Shock at 31. By level 35, you'll have Stormstrike, Static Shock 3/3, and Focused Strikes 3/3, meaning that your 125% weapon damage strike with both hands deals an extra 45% damage and has two 45% chances to proc a Lightning Shield orb for more damage. On top of all that, it leaves a debuff on your target that increases your Lightning Bolt, Earth Shock, and Lightning Shield chance to crit by 25%.
That debuff is the real reason Stormstrike is awesome. While it is passable damage on its own right, enhancement is not a spec that focuses on melee abilities at low level. Mental Quickness is an amazing specialization, giving us 50% of our attack power as spellpower while reducing our instant-cast spell costs by 75%. Flametongue Weapon is obtained at level 10, while Windfury Weapon waits until level 32. Combined, the two give us massive spellpower, without ever taking intellect gear.
On top of spellpower, World of Warcraft game design favors spellcasting at low levels if you don't have access to heirlooms. There is nothing wrong with this; as spells cannot spell with weapon damage, they need to improve their base damage every level to compete with melee damage. As a result, Earth Shock becomes better and better every level.
When leveling, Earth Shock is awesome. It is just amazing. It is high burst damage on a 6-second cooldown, enhanced by enhancement's ridiculously high spellpower at low levels. It also can be used while moving to a mob or while a mob is running to you. Once the mob is at you, you hit with a Stormstrike and enjoy a 25% crit buff to Earth Shock that makes it even more powerful.
The last staple of your leveling spell list is Lightning Shield. For the first 17 levels you have this, Lightning Shield will be a headache to you, but a welcome one. While having to refresh it constantly is a pain, Lightning Shield is affected by the same spellpower that the rest of your spells is, is a passive damaging ability, can critically hit, and needs to be up in order for Static Shock to proc. Everything about the ability is awesome ... except for the charge count. Once you hit level 25 and get a major glyph slot, Glyph of Lightning Shield will be one of your wisest investments.
As a quick recap, your melee abilities require melee weapons to be really good and should fall lower on your priority list if you don't have weapons appropriate for your level. Spells are really good at low levels. As you get higher in level, this will flip-flop. At level 85, Lava Lash is your highest priority, while Earth Shock is your lowest.
That's it for covering the actual abilities we'll use during leveling. Soon to come: leveling talents and glyphs!
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.