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Totem Talk: Shocks and awe

Matthew Rossi

Totem Talk, the column for shamans, takes another look at offense this week. Matthew Rossi covers how to burn, freeze, or... whatever earth shock is supposed to be, a big rock in the face? He couldn't tell you. But whatever it is, it really annoys spellcasters. Boom, clod of earth in the face, no spells for you!

Last week, on Totem Talk, we escaped a burning warehouse only to discover that Diego really isn't the father...

Oh, wait. No, sorry, that was something else entirely. Last week, we talked about direct damage totems. This week, we're going to talk about those signature abilities of the shaman class, those lovely shocks and the lightning bolts we can throw. The fury of the elements in the palm of your hand? The ability to chain a bolt of lightning to hit multiple targets? Shamans can do these things. The two DPS specs use them differently (Enhancement shamans rarely use lightning bolt or chain lightning, while Elemental shamans are less likely to use shocks since they don't really need to be all that close to their targets, although of course you'll see an elemental shaman using a shock to kite or interrupt and an enhancement shaman throwing a few bolts of lightning when told not to engage in melee for whatever reason) but together they make up the offensive spellcasting options of the shaman class.

There are at present three classes of shock spells that shamans can use. These are Earth Shock, Flame Shock, and Frost Shock. As you might expect, each has an elemental affiliation (Earth, Fire and Water respectively) and its own special characteristics that recommend using it in specific situations. All shock spells are linked, meaning that if you use one shock you lock out the other two as well for the duration of the shock cooldown (which is six seconds) meaning that you have to be careful when using them to some degree. It's not a terrible burden, just something to keep in mind as you explore what each shock does and what situations each is best for.

Earth Shock is the first shock spell shamans gain access to, at level 4. It deals nature damage, and like all shocks is an instant cast spell with relatively short range (20 yards). While the damage it does is good, especially as you level (beaten only by frost shock) earth shock's real benefits are twofold. First, for an enhancement shaman, this shock is an easy source of nature damage to follow up a Stormstrike, the signature melee strike of the enhancement spec. Since Stormstrike is an instant cast melee attack which increases the target's vulnerability to nature damage, having an earth shock waiting to follow, especially after a windfury proc, can lead to a devastating chain of high damage in a very short period of time. Many shamans hold stormstrike and earth shock in reserve and deliver both directly after a windfury proc to help increase the amount of burst damage a target takes which can be enough to kill an unprepared target.

However, as interesting as this use of earth shock is, it would be a mistake to treat earth shock as merely a source of pure damage. Even after you have access to higher damaging shocks you'll keep this one handy for its secondary effect: earth shock interrupts channeled spells and locks out any additional spells from that school of magic for 2 seconds after it lands. For classes like Paladins who only have access to holy spells or any class that relies heavily on one school of magic for their healing (including other shamans) this can be a truly powerful and useful countermeasure. It's useful for farming or questing against mobs that channel as well (such as the dead demon in the picture that accompanies today's column) as it can, when combined with grounding totem, keep their offensive spellcasting almost totally negated.

Flame Shock is a damage over time spell which, naturally, deals fire damage. It's the second shock shamans get, at level 10, and while the damage is less than frost or earth shock, it's probably the most mana efficient of the three shocks, making it useful when farming or grinding as well as when fighting frost immune mobs or trying to counteract a heal over time effect. I often flame shock rogues when they seem like they might run away to prevent them from stealthing once they escape combat (although I prefer to frost shock them to slow them, and of course Cloak of Shadows clears it.) but the real benefit of flame shock is, as stated, the mana efficiency of the spell.

Frost Shock is famous. It's the most commonly identified shaman ability, to the point where famous parody videos mention it. While it's lost a good deal of its potency in the post-Burning Crusade era of higher stamina, frost shock is the highest damage shock spell and also has an excellent utility ability in its snare component. Since frost shock can slow a target to 50% of its normal move rate for 8 seconds and it can be reapplied every 6 seconds (at the cost of being unable to use other shocks) this means that a shaman can effectively limit a target's mobility indefinitely, especially since frost shock no longer suffers from diminishing returns. This makes this a powerful and popular shock spell in PvP, used by enhancement shamans to keep enemies close for the bludgeoning or hacking to come and by elemental shamans to keep enemies at a distance so as to minimize any bludgeoning or hacking they might be intending to do.

Frost shock also causes quite a bit of threat, meaning that it can often be seen used in unconventional kiting scenarios like the striders that accompany Lady Vashj. At least one restoration shaman (a guildmate of mine, horde side Malfurion) has tanked Shadow Labs using the threat generated by frost shock. This is not me advising you all to run out and tank instances with it, because the spell's not exactly mana cheap and he's kind of crazy, but I've seen it done at least once so there you go.

Lightning Bolt and its big brother Chain Lightning round out the shamanistic array. While the shocks are more suited to enhancement play with their limited range, instant cast and synergy with abilities like Stormstrike, elemental has the talents to really make the most use of these two spells. (And of course, elemental also has Convection and Concussion, which boost shocks as well as lightning spells.)

Shamans start with lightning bolt: it's available at level 1, so you'll be killing pigs in the Valley of Trials with it as soon as the flyover intro finishes. Few spells are as evocative of their class, and for an elemental shaman this spell is going to be the most used due to its spammable nature. It has no cooldown aside from the global so it can be cast over and over again, making it a large part of every elemental shaman's damage rotation. There are a host of talents in elemental spec (which we'll cover in detail next week) that amplify the damage and reduce the mana cost of this spell (I'll mention Lightning Overload now just because it's cool).

Chain Lightning, with a 2 second cast and a chance to deal 210% of its regular damage (100% on the first target, 70% on the second and 40% on the third) would probably be the spam of choice for elemental shamans if not for the fact that it has a 6 second cooldown. The typical rotation will be three lightning bolts (with Lightning Mastery reducing cast time to 2 seconds) followed by a Chain. (This is without taking spell haste into account.) PvP caster shamans will most likely use their talents to ensure that they can cast an instant Chain with each hop guaranteed to crit in what is often considered the 'insta-gib' for 3x3 arenas. It can put out an impressive amount of damage to all three of your opponents at once if done properly, making chain lightning a popular option for both PvE and PvP.

Okay, we've covered pretty much every direct damage spell shamans have access to. Next week we'll go more into detail on how the talents in each tree contribute to these spells and abilities. There's a lot of ground to cover, and a plethora (yay, I got to use it in a sentence!) of talents to discuss, so we may have to break it up by spec and focus on elemental first. We'll see how it goes.

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