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Totem Talk: The Future of Totems?

Matthew Rossi

All apologies for yesterday being, well, totemless. Personal and family obligations and a lack of warning simply swamped me, and as a result Totem Talk is on Friday and Care and Feeding will be Saturday this week only.

Before we get to brass tacks, as it were, I should point out that it was announced that shamans are getting a talent respec for free in 3.0.8, most likely due to the changes we discussed last week.

Yesterday, we covered this very interesting forum thread which basically asks the shaman community to discuss totems in the most open-ended way I've ever seen a blue solicit feedback. Asking people to just discuss any aspect of totems they don't like, or how they would change totems if it was up to them? I can't remember ever seeing this level of feedback asked for from the community.

Now, since I'm a sheep, I figured I'd follow along with this general tendency. I mean, we've discussed totems here before, especially the greatest totem of all time. But rather than merely talk about what we don't like or would change about totems (we'll do that too, of course) I figured we could also cover what's good about totems, especially in these days of raid wide buffs that don't stack.

First off, totems are fire and forget, which is sometimes a vert, very good thing indeed. Having recently done Hadronox on heroic on my shaman, remembering to drop poison cleansing totem for the fight makes it much, much easier on everyone involved. Our priest healer was thrilled beyond words to see a DPS shaman in that group. The ability to simply drop a totem to do an unpleasant job like break fears, ward off diseases, ground a spell or pulse mana or health regen is something I've always really enjoyed, even relied upon as a shaman and it's an aspect of the class no other can duplicate. Yes, other classes can cleanse, can prevent or remove fear, but no one can just drop a constantly refreshing method for these things and then just walk away to continue about whatever they were originally doing.

Another aspect of the shaman's totem experience that I would hate to lose is the strength of being able to provide multiple buffs. To a degree this was attenuated by the raid-wide system, since so many other classes have buffs that duplicate our totems and so having the totem provides no benefit, but it's still true that no other class can provide Sentry Totem! (Sorry, but seeing myself quoted on the Sentry Totem entry on WoWhead made me laugh for several minutes, so I'm sharing.) In all seriousness, having the ability to tailor up to four totems for a situation and have them provide various benefits is one of the absolute best things about playing a shaman. When I have a DK tank, for instance, I can switch to Stoneskin or Tremor because I know he's going to use Horn of Winter anyway (yes, my SoE overwrites that, but since it's going to be up anyway I might as well get armor or fear removal for the group) while providing mana or health regen, melee or ranged haste, and spellpower for the group. If there's an elemental shaman available I may switch to Searing or Magma or Fire Nova totem especially since he or she will probably have Totem of Wrath up, The combination of shaman's fire and forget and flexibility derived from totems is one of the strongest aspects of the class, in my opinion, and I'd hate to see that lost.

Okay, we've covered what I see as the strengths of the totem mechanic. Now, in reading that 74 page and climbing comment threat on the forums on the subject, we see a lot of the same problems mentioned over and over again. Totems being on the same global cooldown as all other spells makes dropping four while trying to do anything else somewhat painful. Totem immobility and limited range, even with the range having been improved for Wrath, means you often find yourself putting them down over and over again especially on fights with a lot of movement (remember Black Morass or Violet Hold, for just two examples) or with the raid spread out over a large area. Kiting fights like Grobbulus are also somewhat unfriendly to a shaman's totems. And of course the easy killing of totems in PvP (even with Stoneclaw Totem this is still a concern, as Stoneclaw is an earth totem, forcing you to sacrifice Tremor or Strength of Earth for a totem damage shield that will absorb at best 1 spell at level 80) is a pereniall discontent for serious PvP shamans. Some totems also have very long cooldowns that limit them in PvE content (earthbind, grounding).

Now, not all of these (and other issues) can be solved. Totems have strengths and as a result have to have weaknesses to balance them, we all know this. But some of the weaknesses, like the issue of having to recast the totems over and over again on mobility fights, could easily be dealt with by a variety of mechanisms. There were two methods I saw mentioned in that thread that I liked. One was a variation on Totemic Call that actually called the totems to where the shaman is now rather than destroying them and returning a percentage of their mana cost to the shaman, and the other was the suggestion that totems somehow be tethered to the shaman and follow her/him around. While I've always liked the idea of having totems follow me around, I think the mechanics of some totems means that a system that leaves them stationary but allows the shaman to move them from where they happen to be (not benefiting anyone since they're out of range, say) to where the shaman is now via a modified Totemic Call ability would be the way to go.

Another idea I've seen for totems in mobility fight uses the idea of the large carved pole that shamans (especially tauren ones) used in the Warcraft RTS games: imagine an ability that allowed you to deploy a single, large carved totem pole as a 'relay' for totems that were already down somewhere else. You'd want to limit it in some fashion or otherwise shamans would just drop their totems at some ridiculous range to keep people from killing them in PvP (maybe make the relay totem killable) but imagine being able to drop your totems in Violet Hold at the foot of the entrance stairs and then just dropping a relay each time a portal is up to get your party the benefit of the totems. I think this would be a nice, fairly lore friendly and fun way to help deal with range issues and mobility in fights.

Finally, while we're blue skying, I still want the Totem of the Wilds. It would have Spirit Totems as seen in various quests including a totem that gave a flat buff to spirit (watch as resto druids, holy priests and other classes that scale with spirit flock to you) totems that create a ward or debuff to nearby undead (a totem that caused them to have an increased chance to miss, for instance) and finally, as a means to loosen the 'I already have Stoneskin down to protect my totems so I can't drop Tremor' syndrome, there would be a totem in the element that would be able to duplicate the ability of other totems you can drop, helping increase that vaunted flexibility. Of course it would have to be limited with a significant cooldown or other means to keep shamans from switching it too often in combat, getting two groundings for the price of one or what have you, but it would still be something I would implement if I could.

Okay, I've gone on enough for one column., What about you? What do you like or hate about totems? What would you change, what would you add? Feel free to use the comments here to work out exactly what you'd like to suggest over there. Next week, hopefully 3.0.8 will have dropped and we'll get to see how the changes shake out. If not, then probably raiding gear for shamans.

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