Crit is important for Elemental shamans for the same reason it's important for Holy paladins: crits don't end up costing mana. It works a little differently for the two classes; pallies who take the Illumination talent get a 100% mana refund from their crit heals, while shammies who take Elemental Focus get a Clearcasting effect when they crit a Fire, Frost, or Nature damage spell that reduces the mana cost of their next offensive spell by 100%. In both cases, however, this is getting nerfed in 2.1, and by the same amount: 40%. Illumination now refunds 60% mana, and this Clearcasting effect now reduces the mana cost of the next offensive spell by 60%. I hereby apologize for calling the Illumination nerf the biggest of the patch; the Ele. Focus nerf is of course just as big. Nevertheless, even at 60%, the Clearcasting state is still desirable, so we still want to maximize spellcrit.
As I understand it, an Elemental shammy in a group PvE environment tends to essentially stand back and spam Lightning Bolt (LB). Therefore, the top two talents in the Ele tree are both great: one reduces mana cost by 2% per point, and the other increases damage by 1% per point. They both seem to clearly outshine the next tier of talents, so taking 5/5 in both of them makes good sense. We then gain access to the aforementioned crit = free spell talent, Elemental Focus, which goes great with Call of Thunder: crit chance of LB and Chain Lightning raised by what seems to be 1.2% per point. More damage, more clearcasts.
Reverberation is a talent which my ignorance prevents me from evaluating. I honestly don't know if being able to shock every five seconds instead of six is worth five talent points. Of course, there's not tons of competition around here, but I'd be tempted to move some points into Unrelenting Storm instead (at 400 int, that talent gives 8 mp5 per point). Storm Reach is strong -- being farther away is generally much more valuable than it might seem. Elemental Fury is obvious as a prerequisite.
Elemental Precision is another candidate for possibly moving a point down from reverberation. Not only does it lower the chance of level-based resistances, but it reduces threat, which as I understand it is a serious consideration for shammies. Two points in the talent for 4% increased chance to hit is enough to ensure that all your spells will land on same-level enemies (I had to check back at my Attack Tables and You post to look this up). However, the miss chance for mobs three levels higher (i.e. raid bosses) is 17%, so you can use all the spellhit you can get.
Lightning Mastery is as solid as the cast-time reducing talents other casters get (Bane, Improved Fireball/Frostbolt), taking LB's cast time from 3s down to 2s for 5 points and thereby increasing DPS from that spell by 13% per point (!). Of course, this means you'll go through mana faster in terms of time elapsed; your damage per mana, however, is not affected, and that's what really counts as far as efficiency. Elemental Mastery, like the Paladin equivalent, gives a free, auto-crit spell, which is really nice in a pinch. The Shaman version is even better, due to Shammy crit mechanics: not only is the LB you cast from Ele. Mastery free, but it's guaranteed to proc Clearcasting, so the next one is free too (or 60% off in 2.1).
We polish off the tree with Lightning Overload, which handily gives you a 1% chance per point to get a free double cast from your LBs or Chain Lightnings. This raises your DPS and DPM; good times. There is, of course, one lower talent left in the tree: the 41-pointer, Totem of Wrath. It gives +3% spellhit and +3% spellcrit, and is of the fire element. According to the TBC Shaman FAQ in the forums, this very rarely ends up doing as much damage as Searing Totem (which does 56 dps), unless you have lots of casters in your group; that seems a good reason not to take it over Nature's Swiftness (NS), going 40/0/21 instead of 41/0/20.
Speaking of NS, what do we have over in Resto? Tidal Focus, for 5% cheaper heals, seems to easily beat out Imp. Healing Wave for 0.5s quicker Healing Waves. Of course, I know almost nothing about Shaman healing, so that might not be the case, but in general efficiency is more important for healers than speed. Totemic Focus is all well and good, more on the efficiency bandwagon; but does Imp. Reincarnation really deserve two points? Wouldn't one of them be better spent in Totemic Mastery?
Now we get a few "synergy" talents that help both with our man task, nuking, and those times when we might have to off-heal. Nature's Guidance ups our spellhit by 1% per point, easily worth the full three points, and Tidal Mastery raises crit chance of both heals and lightning spells by 5% for five points. If you're keeping score at home, note that we now have +11% spellcrit just from talents, which of course means both more damage and more efficiency.
And the last talent in this build is Nature's Swiftness. Another synergy talent, which I didn't realize until I read the tooltip more carefully. I'm used to thinking of the talent in the context of Feral/Resto Druid hybrid builds, in which the only spells you're liable to cast that are affected by it are heals. In the case of Elemental Shamans, however, it affects LB as well -- pretty nifty.
Well, that's the build! It's actually got me itching to work on my own shammy, though I'm told Enhancement is the way to go for leveling purposes. This, I imagine, is because it's easier to find Enhance-oriented gear at lower levels than it is to find Ele-oriented gear, as well as the fact that it's always easier to fight if your primary source of damage does not require a tank to be effective (seeing as how Shaman is not a pet class). What do you think? What are the spots where my Shaman ignorance shines through, and how does this build look to you guys?
Next week: Druid. Lend me your builds!