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Totem Talk: Elemental, my dear Watson

Matthew Rossi

So, what's the score with Elemental as a spec? Why, Mister Rossi, have you been so assiduously avoiding any discussion of it?

Well, in part it's because I don't really like playing as an elemental shaman. It's a personal preference issue: when I'm DPS, I like to be up in mob faces, not standing back casting spells. My default spec for when I'm not enhancement is restoration, if only because I seem to be able to keep people alive fairly well with that spec and usually healing is at a premium. But I would have no difficulty in admitting that not only am I not particularly enthused with elemental (unlike Mike Schramm, one of our big elemental boosters) I'm also not very good at playing one. So speccing elemental this week and testing out the spec was to some degree like asking Wayne Gretsky to go figure skating: sure, the guy can skate, and skate well, but he's really not known for that particular kind of skating. Still, I did it, and I have to say that as is always the case when I do it I found the spec much less agonizing to play than I expected. It's actually pretty fun. (Yes, I use basically the same gear as I do when I go resto now, which means my crit sucks, but I'm not going to blow all my badges on elemental gear just to test the spec.)

Click on me!The other and more serious reason I've held off from talking about elemental, however, is that a lot of shamans are very, very concerned about how well the tree is going to scale. Right now, as this WWS screenshot shows (names blurred to protect my guildmates) an elemental shaman can do well on an excursion to say, Black Temple (our #2 DPS was our elemental shaman, passed by a moonkin and ahead of a mage and hunter) but what about the future? Rather than try and repeat the work of others, let me introduce you to a couple of threads that cover the issue better than I would be able to. To attempt to summarize the complicated issue in an understandable way (and I mean understandable to me) - at 70 our gear and talents work as well, if not better, than they did before patch 3.0.2, but the concern is that as we move upward our DPS will increase at a slower pace than other DPS classes. Part of the concern is based on the fact that as an elemental shaman, you're more or less getting the same buffs you would from a raid through your talents and abilities like Elemental Oath (which, remember, doesn't stack with Moonkin Aura in the new scheme) so that in a raid you don't get the DPS boost other classes do, and part of it is based on the idea that shamans do not currently posses talents in their tree to increase scaling. Shamans do not gain spell power from intellect or spirit as other classes do, and they don't have a means to gain spell power via a talent that increases the way it multiplies.

As I stated, at present this isn't a huge issue. We're not in level 80 gear, we don't have the full array of our Wrath talents and neither does anyone else. One of the reasons I avoided talking about this for so long is that there's no good way to do it that avoids the charge of meaningless complaint: as Ghostcrawler himself stated, everyone thinks their class is underpowered and everyone else is overpowered. But the fact is, I don't play elemental willingly, and even if it was the single most powerful DPS spec in the game, I wouldn't play it. I don't really enjoy it. I don't play mages, or warlocks, or boomkin druids, or shadow priests for a similar reason. I don't enjoy the role of ranged caster DPS. So I have no dog in this fight. If the class gains the scalability talents in the elemental tree that it would most likely need to keep parity with other casters, then I would not personally benefit from these talents. I would not take them.

I also don't want to leave the argument that shaman DPS will benefit from its new fire spells (Lava Burst) and new talents (Lava Flows) to increase fire damage, nor that shamans will benefit from debuffs like Curse of the Elements. While it's true that CoE will provide increased benefits for shamans, it will also provide those same benefits for every other caster, meaning that shaman DPS won't really be boosted by it proportionately. For purposes of Shaman DPS scaling vs other classes, it's a non-issue. Debuffs that primarily benefited elemental shamans like Stormstrike no longer do it only works for the enhancement shaman who cast it) meaning that elemental shamans have traded a 20% damage increase that mainly benefitted them for a 10% one that benefits everyone. Combine this with a reduction in the lightning spells coefficient which we've talked about before, and the lack of any talents that directly increase spell power scaling (which used to be contained in the Storm, Earth and Fire talent if you look over the comments) and you start to see the source of shaman concerns for Wrath. Elemental gets less from its talents and no special benefit from the debuff that is supposed to up our DPS to the point where our coefficients needed to be reduced, so the class loses ground as gear adds spell power to other classes via stats that don't directly benefit shamans in the same way.

This is the spec I took for a ride this week. You will find many flaws in it, because I don't PvP on the shaman and as such tried to go for pure damage abilities that didn't rely too much on the fire damage I don't do a lot of yet. (No Lava Burst = no Call of Flame) - I really like the new Thundering Strikes for elemental and if I were planning to stay elemental I would go over the spec again looking for a spare point to max it out. I found Thunderstorm to be as situational as I expected, but not nearly as bad - I used it almost every time it was up for mana regen alone and had fun on trash pulls with it, after making sure the tank had established enough aggro that sending several murlocs flying away from him wouldn't put them onto me.

To try and be fair, the spec feels (in the level of gear I have) strong at 70. I'm not doing as much damage as someone in full raid epics, but I don't feel weak at all, nor do I notice a huge decrease from the loss of Stormstrike or the decrease in coefficients. I throw a lot of Lightning Bolts and Chain Lightnings between Lightning Mastery, Lightning Overload and Storm, Earth and Fire reducing cast times, the cooldown on CL, and giving a chance fo a second bolt from LO, so at 70 I'd say the spec is still heavily nature damage oriented but I do find myself throwing more flame shocks now to take advantage of the increase periodic damage from SEF. I even decided to use Glyph of Flame Shock for that reason. Supposedly in patch 3.0.3 the glyph will be upgraded to keep Lava Burst from consuming Flame Shock, which would only be good. If I were PvPing more (at all, really) with the spec I might get Glyph of Frost Shock for the extra snare duration.

At present I'm using Glyph of Flametongue Weapon over Glyph of Lightning Bolt, which I considered. I just felt like the extra crit chance was more important than the 10% mana cost reduction. The only minor glyph I went looking for was the Glyph of Water Shield, as anything is better than nothing, but I really didn't get hit an awful lot to use up the extra orb. I picked up the Glyph of Ghost Wolf as a potential glyph in case I start PvPing, but haven't used it yet, because I haven't PvP'd at all as elemental.

In the end, I realize that elemental shamans will probably feel that I'm selling their issues short: please do go read the links to the official forums and Elitist Jerks I posted to start, as you'll get a much better sense of the exact issues and a whole lot of math if you're interested. Other caster DPS will probably write the whole thing off as a whine, which is unfortunate, as it really wasn't intended as one. While it is my personal belief that some/all of these issues could be fixed with a few simple tweaks (change SEF to add spell power from intellect, perhaps, or reduce the point cost on a few talents and use those points to include a new talent that used spirit or intellect as a scaling agent) I know not everyone will even agree that it is necessary to do so.

I don't want to play elemental. I never will. But that doesn't mean I don't want to see the tree keep parity with other ranged DPS, because I do. It may not be a spec I personally enjoy, but many other shamans do, and a lot of players who have yet to discover the class would most likely enjoy the playstyle. I don't want to see them hampered by elements that they can never overcome.

Next week, we're heading into the final stretch before Wrath: while there's probably not enough time to really cover all the possible gear from instances, reputation and crafting for all three specs, we'll at least look at some pieces you may want to put on your lists.

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