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Totem Talk: The Endangered Shaman

Matthew Rossi

Totem Talk is the column for shamans. Matthew Rossi plays a shaman, and he wants more people to play them. Why? Well, if as many people played shamans as play, say, hunters, maybe we would see some better mail for shamans out there. He's a selfish jerk, that Matthew Rossi.

Why are there so few shamans in the game? If you look at the numbers we first saw in Mike's post this week, it's glaringly obvious that there are fewer shamans than any other class in the game by a huge margin. The next two lowest classes, fellow hybrids both in the form of druids and paladins, each have 2% or so more of the player base both in general and at level 70 than do shamans, roughly 40 to 50 thousand players at level 70 per class. Why is this? Why are people staying away from the shaman in droves?

Part of the problem might lie in the original class balance: shamans were the horde only class, and paladins were the alliance only class, so it makes sense that fewer people played either class than classes that either faction could make use of. Similarly, while druids (the third hybrid) also had a low population, to some degree that was caused by the fact that they had such a limited racial selection. If you want to play a druid, you're a night elf or a tauren, and that's it.

Similarly, since shamans and paladins were originally faction limited, that meant that dungeons and raids had to be balanced around the idea that there would either be a shaman or a paladin, but never both, and that a large percentage of the player base would be unable to have one or the other on a run. You can't make a boss who is practically unbeatable unless you can Earth Shock him reliably when there's no way an alliance raid can bring a shaman along.

Still, since the release of The Burning Crusade, shaman population clearly hasn't taken off. Why? It may be true that there's always going to be a class at the bottom of the totem pole (ouch, sorry, that was bad) is there a reason beyond simple demographics to explain why shamans are dead last? If they're so amazingly overpowered (as people still maintain from time to time) then why isn't anyone playing them? Are those of us playing shamans at 70 just stubborn? Why are shaman players so upset that they riot on their forums and start guilds that have every class but shamans?

It's tempting for people who haven't played a shaman recently to dismiss this as crying over nothing, especially if you have memories of watching, say, a level 54 shaman turn a level 60 paladin into a smear during an Crossroads raid back in the dim past. There was a time when an enhancement shaman with windfury on a Sulfuras could hit you so hard that you'd go from having 5k health to 1k health in one exchange. I know, I was the warrior experiencing how badass shamans were, a human in the best DPS gear from BWL/AQ 40 getting annihilated by shamans.

What needs to be understood is that those days are gone.

No, they're gone. You do not understand the class if you think they're putting up that kind of damage. Yes, in flat numbers a geared level 70 enhancement or elemental shaman can deal out far, far more damage than in the old days, but since everything has more health now, it's not the amount of damage that a shaman can deal out that's important, it's the percentage. Can a shaman at 70 match the power of a shaman at 60 relative to the encounters and PvP he'll meet?

A great many shamans would tell you no. In the first place, while an enhancement shaman can deal out a significant amount of damage, what he's really in a group for is the buffs he provides the other DPSers, especially in a raid. When I was raiding this weekend, we made sure I was in a group with the DPSing warrior and feral druid so that they'd get my totem buffs and Unleashed Rage, and that I'd get their shouts and Leader of the Pack. My DPS was good, considering my junky enhancement gear (I don't even have a good pair of dual wield weapons on my orc, because he heals 99% of the time and I pass on gear for dedicated DPSers) but it wasn't amazing, and in a larger guild with more choice I can't imagine that I would be coming along to do enhancement DPS when you could bring a rogue instead. (As it was, we had two rogues. There simply aren't more rogues to bring in my guild.) When my DPS got close to the warrior, I pulled agg. Over and over again. The only thing I could do was stop hitting it, stop Stormstriking it, stop Earth Shocking it. Shaman threat reduction consists of standing still and hoping you don't die, or dying and making the call between waiting and saving your ankh for a wipe or using it now and hoping you haven't just ruined your raid's fast recovery. I went back to resto to heal happily. Enhance is getting some needed buffs in 2.3, which may well increase our PvP survivability and make us more desired in raids, but that's not clear yet.

Elemental right now is fairly strong in DPS, but there's a lot of anger aimed at the developers over what is seen as a reduction in their viability for raiding in 2.3. Frankly, I am not interested enough in math to work out exactly what is happening to elemental DPS. The basic argument seems to be that with the changes to Lightning Overload and the casting time on spells, the spell coefficient for +damage on gear is less effective for elemental shamans in 2.3, while their mana regeneration is going up. Some of the best coverage of the issue is to be found here, especially this post. You can go over the numbers and determine what they mean probably far better than I can.

Resto is fine, and it will only get better in 2.3 as far as I can judge. My kara/heroics geared resto shaman healed in Zul'Aman with little difficulty. Much better mana regen, only a little problem with making sure to keep ahead of spike damage (which is what Nature's Swiftness is for) and in fact, I think this might be part of the problem. The other two hybrid classes demanded, and got, increased viability in all their roles. Paladins can tank and heal and in 2.3 look to be strong melee DPS. Druids can do it all if they spec and gear for it. And shamans?

Shamans can heal pretty well if they gear and spec for it, can DPS fairly well as elemental (but are not happy at all with where the patch is going) and can make other melee DPS better but have major threat issues if they start performing at almost the same level as others. And frankly, I can't imagine that the general sense of doom and malaise over on the official forums helps sell the class to anyone. Sure, I've seen posts just as despondent on, say, the priest or mage forums. But people are still playing priests and mages. Mages are the second most played class in the game and priests come in just behind hunters in terms of percentages. Mages are almost twice as numerous as shamans. Warriors are more than twice as numerous! I can't think posts where the debate isn't whether or not shamans have been nerfed again, but rather how they should treat the CM's about it, are indicative of a happy player base that's enjoying where the class has gone or is going.

Yes, the forums are always bad. But seeing multiple class revolts on the forums, combined with seeing the Elitist Jerks forum pre-emptively telling people not to complain in their threads, combined with seeing the intense response in posts on this site means that all of these people are not just whiners. There's something rotten in the state of shamans that leads to them, months into the expansion, still being a remarkably underplayed class. As someone who loves his shamans (made 67 on my ally shammy last night) there's no way I can look at these trends dispassionately.

I freely admit now I don't know what it would take. Is it just bitter players ruining the reputation of the class so that no one tries it? Is it a history of being nerfed, or being poorly expanded upon compared to other hybrids? Is it the original legacy of the class as faction specific and a failure of vision in how to develop it now that it isn't? I really enjoy playing my shamans, but I admit there are issues I find problematic about the class like the duration and range of totems. Other classes are having their buffs increased in duration and I'm still dropping half of my mana in sticks every 2 minutes, and it doesn't seem right to me.

I don't know the answer, so I leave it up to you shamans out there. What do we need to make us viable and attractive to new players? Longer totems? Mobile totems? Threat reduction? More damage? More sustained damage? An entire overhaul or just some fixes?

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