Imagine you have a friend. This isn't any normal friend, but a friend that you really, really, really want to get interested in World of Warcraft. To this end, you have the brilliant plan that if you let him raid on your character, he'll be so taken by the experience that he'll be level 85 within a week.
Naturally, this goes badly. Recount shows your character below the tanks every attempt, as your friend spends half the fight attacking the wrong target and the other half of the fight attacking nothing at all. Of course, that's only on the fights where he manages to stay alive, which is one in 10 attempts.
Now, imagine that in order to do your maximum DPS, you have to let that friend raid with you every single fight. If you choose not to allow that friend to raid, you'll lose about 3,000 potential DPS. However, if you choose to let him raid, you run the risk of his dying, attacking the wrong target, or standing in the center of the room while he mentally alt-tabs.
Welcome to playing an elemental shaman.
I've talked before about how good the elemental two-piece tier 12 bonus is, at least in theory. Fire Elemental Totem is generally a 3,000 DPS increase over Searing Totem; this number is gear-dependent, but I'll use 3,000 from now on for easy math. The actual increase from the tier bonus fluctuates based on fight length. On a fight that only lasts 4 minutes, you're only getting an extra 2 minutes of totem uptime. In that case, the two-piece bonus maths out to about a 600 DPS increase (3,000DPS*2/10 increased uptime). This is because we have to factor in the fact that without the two-piece bonus, you'd have Fire Elemental totem down for 2 out of every 10 minutes anyway.
To that end, the maximum bonus you'll be getting from this totem is "8/10*(Fire Elemental Totem's damage-Searing Totem's damage)." Using our estimated 3,000 DPS increase for FE over Searing Totem, the tier bonus should equate to around a 2,400 DPS increase. This is awesome, making it one of the most powerful tier bonuses ever and one that will only get better as we reach heroic gear levels, since Fire Elemental scales fairly well. And as commenters on my last post pointed out, there's some definite hope in the elemental shaman community that this glyph is a testing ground for Blizzard to introduce the permanent Fire Elemental as a staple elemental ability.
To top it all off, there's no easy way to monitor your Fire Elemental and who it is attacking. Classes with permanent pets have a pet frame, complete with a target of pet function, for precisely this reason. While your hunters, warlocks, and pesky frost mages get to monitor their pets from the safety of a 36-yard range, we need to rely on not rolling a one on our spot check. While watching for void zones, raid timers, cast bars, and the myriad other things fighting for our concentration on a single encounter, we need to be visibly checking the melee clump to make sure our Fire Elemental is on the right target.
Because of the 8% proc chance on the tier bonus, losing your pet isn't as crippling as it was in previous tiers. However, in order to properly redrop the totem, you need to move into melee range, make sure you have a Flame Shock on the target you want it on (and preferably none on other targets), and blow a global cooldown that could have been spent on another ability, had your FE just stayed alive. Additionally, Fire Elemental scales with your spellpower at the time you cast it, meaning you can eke out more DPS by waiting for Power Torrent or trinkets with spellpower procs to activate and redropping your totem. Unfortunately, if your FE dies on leashes away from a boss, you don't have the luxury of waiting for procs.
A thought for the solution
I'd like to propose a change. We know that Earthquake is effectively a failed talent with limited use in PVE and virtually no use in PVP. It's a drain on mana, it's affected by armor, and it does less damage than rolling Flame Shocks and using Fire Nova on cooldown. In addition, our Fire Elemental does more AOE damage while it's up, provided it can properly utilize its own Fire Nova ability. We also know that elemental is the only shaman DPS spec that uses Fire Elemental for single-target rotations. (Enhancement gets some use out of it in AOE situations, but we rarely run into the 2-minute AOE phases that would make it shine.)
Right now, elemental shaman are stuck in a liminal space between pet spec and non-pet spec, with the downsides of requiring a permanent pet to maximize our DPS yet none of the pet spec perks like dynamic scaling, a control bar, or a pet frame. That needs to stop.
Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk. Ready to take your elemental shaman up to the new level cap? We'll help you get to level 85, dig into pre-raid gear and DPS trinkets, and find the addons that'll help your performance shine.