My fellow elemental shaman: Our class is no longer complete. And no, I'm not talking about the recent changes to totems that seems to have everyone up in arms despite being a really good change for the class. I'm referring to the fact that we our class is no longer balanced around level 85. The level 85 game is effectively over. Think of this game as election, and the post 5.0.4 period is the period of time between November 5th January 20th: We're a lame duck class. We're nerfed. And that's fine, because Cataclysm content no longer matters, and exists only to help you relearn your spec before Mists of Pandaria drops.
Our beloved spec has been retooled to be balanced at level 90, where we'll have access to the incredibly powerful Ascendance and the level 90 tier of DPS talents. These will be potent additions to our arsenal, and our current spells have been balanced around the idea that we will have access to them. That doesn't mean everything at 85 is all bad -- we did receive a few nice quality of life changes that you'll notice when you log-in.
- Lava Surge makes Lava Burst instant, which makes it a mobile DPS ability.
- Elemental Fury makes us the only class/spec to crit for more than 200% damage.
- Lava Burst's damage was nerfed, but Lightning Bolt's was slightly buffed to compensate.
- Fire Elemental now lasts one minute, but also only has a five minute cooldown. (Meaning it will be up every attempt!)
- Lightning Shield starts at one stack and stacks to seven, rather than starting at three and going to nine. You no longer lose charges from taking damage.
- Glyphed Flame Shock now lasts 30 seconds, up from 27.
- Stormlash Totem. Hello again, four guaranteed raid spots for shaman. We've missed you so much.
There are more changes, but these are some of the really big ones. And while the core of the spec remains unchanged, the changes are big enough that some playstyle elements are different. With that in mind, this is a guide of important things to know post-5.0.4. It should lay the groundwork for elemental in Mists of Pandaria, with but it is not all encompassing; level 90 talents and Ascendance will be covered in later posts.
Glyphing for the situation
The new glyph system is designed to make you choose glyphs situationally, rather than having glyphs you put in and forget about entirely. Theoretically, there should not be glyphs that increase your DPS at no cost anymore. For 99% of glyphs, that's true. However, Glyph of Flame Shock is the rare exception. It increases your Flame Shock's duration, making it a nice 30 seconds and allowing you to fit more spell casts in without needing to spend the global cooldown to refresh FS. There is a cost attached, but the 25% lost to Flame Shock's direct damage is such a small damage loss that it is irrelevant. You should always be using this glyph in PVE.
Our other glyphs are more situations. Chain Lightning would be good on a fight with a ton of adds, like Yor'sahj the Unsleeping. For Warmaster Blackhorn where you're chaining 2-3 adds at most, you'd skip it. Fire Elemental Totem makes sense on Hagara or Spine of Deathwing, where you have repeated short burst windows. Unleashed Lightning now carries a 5% cast time loss; it's still good in high movement scenarios, but you'll notice if you leave it in on Ultraxion.
Ultimately, your glyph choices (other than Flame Shock) will rely on you knowing the fight you're about to do and making intelligent decisions. In my honest opinion, this is how the game should always have been.
Totemic talent choices
I won't cover all talents, because they're not all useful for PVE/useful for DPS. Some will be useful, such as the damage mitigation tier, but those will be up to you to choose based on personal preference and what the fight calls for. I will tell you that you should almost definitely be taking Totemic Projection for instances and raids with AOE, as it allows you to conveniently place your Magma Totem in a pack of evildoers.
The big choice for talents comes in the fourth tier. Elemental Mastery, Ancestral Swiftness, and Echo of the Elements are all good choices. In fact, they're so good that most simulators have them at within 3% DPS of one another, which means Blizzard balanced them incredibly well. At level 85, your best choice is probably Elemental Mastery, assuming you have access to two-pieces of tier13 gear. (Which you probably do, considering Dragon Soul released something like ten months ago.) You'd also favor EM on fights like Hagara and Spine where burst DPS matters most.
Echo of the Elements is good if you want consistent, sustained DPS. It gives every spell cast you do a 6% chance to copy its damage or healing. If you do not have 2pc tier13, this is most likely your best talent choice, though Elemental Mastery is close behind it. Ancestral Swiftness' instant cast portion is pretty weak, but a 5% haste buff is nothing to sneer at. And, it's probably your best choice in a helter-skelter, movement intense fight, as it offsets the damage loss from Glyph of Unleashed Lightning. Also, Elemental Mastery is devalued in high-movement fights because of the likelihood of losing spell casts to movement during its duration.
Much like glyphs, talents aren't nearly as cut-and-dry as they were in Cataclysm and before. If you've noticed, I've used the word "probably" a large number of times in this article already. That's because glyphs, talents, and even stats are much less definitive than they've ever been before, and every player's situation is going to be slightly different. To me, this is a significantly more compelling game to play.
Statistically speaking, critical hit rating is better
Speaking of stats, they have not escaped unscathed from the changes of 5.0.4. First off, you now only need 1537 hit rating to reach the 15% spell hit cap, down from the 1742 (17%) you needed pre-patch. This leaves you 205 more secondary stats to spread around to actual damage increasing stats.
Beyond that, your level 85 stat weights should remain mostly unchanged due to the 4pc tier13 bonus. You will have to use Simcraft to sim your gear yourself, but following the Cataclysm tier13 strategy of trying to keep your mastery and haste at similar levels should be your best choice. Do remember, though, that you have 893 more mastery rating from Grace of Air now. This will likely make haste a higher priority to reforge into to balance out the two stats.
And then, there's crit. Due to Lava Burst's instant-crit nature, critical hit rating has always been elemental's worst stat. At 85, that isn't going away. However, nerfs to Lava Bursts and the buff to Elemental Fury have made crit a better stat. Coupled with Primal Elementalist not receiving any benefit from mastery (but being benefited by crit rating), and all three secondary stats have the potential to be good at 90. Until then, though, you most likely want to stick to balancing your haste and mastery.
Our previous priority still works
Our priority system is largely unchanged from pre-5.0.4. And, by largely unchanged, I mean that the only real change is that you'll be casting your Fulminations at seven charges of Lightning Shield rather than nine. The priority system is:
- Fire Totem if none is down or if it is about to expire
- Flame Shock if it has expired or is about to expire
- Lava Burst if available.
- Cast Earth Shock at 7 stacks of Lightning Shield, unless you are within two ticks (one FS/ES cooldown) from Flame Shock falling off. It is also possible to cast ES at 3 or higher stacks immediately before your Flame Shock will hit 5 seconds remaining on its duration. The DPS gain/loss from this is negligible.
- Cast Lightning Bolt as filler.
This priority system will change at 90 when you have access to Elemental Blast and Primal Elementalist. The entire spec will change when you have access to those spells, and they will need entire posts just to detail how they will change your playstyle. For now, though, this post should provide you with a basic understanding of how your elemental shaman should play in a post 5.0.4 Azeroth.
Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk: Elemental. Let's get down to business with a heart-to-heart on 4 steps to increase your DPS, choosing a weapon in Dragon Soul, and hot topics for elemental shaman -- or start from scratch by leveling an elemental shaman in the Cataclysm era.