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Totem Talk: Is Enhancement too squishy?

Matthew Rossi

Yes, that's Thoralius the Wise from the Howling Fjord starting quests. When I saw him get up and start zoning out to his smoke brazier, the look on his face just meshed too well with today's subject matter, which is the health of shamans in melee. We talked about shaman health in PvP a while back, now it's PvE's turn.

I don't play my shaman in a melee role in raids right now, because I basically don't have the gear for it. My resto set's a lot better so that's what I go as, but that only means I often notice how difficult it is to keep enhancement shamans on their feet. There are several possible culprits for the disparity, although in most cases I believe the killer to be aoe damage, so wearing mail really isn't the issue: rogues aren't nearly as hard to keep up as shamans, for instance, because rogues have cooldowns and abilities that allow them to avoid or escape damage. (If you've ever seen a rogue go sprinting through several mines on a Mimiron kill you'll know what I mean.) No, excepting those giant whirlwinding maniacs in Razorscale and Thorim, what's generally killing shamans in melee is AoE damage, and the problem here is twofold in my experience.

  1. Most enhancement shamans who are not in Tier gear are wearing hunter mail, which is not tuned to higher stamina values. Even shaman tier gear lacks in stamina, however.
  2. In order to take talents that would reduce incoming damage, shamans are asked to not take talents that would allow them to produce meaningful DPS.

Generally speaking, there are abilities that can help with high AoE damage and give your healers a chance to get a heal to you as enhancement. Feral Spirit and Shamanistic Rage are good ideas to save for high AoE damage if possible, for instance, and you can spec into Elemental Warding fairly painlessly. You could even spec Toughness, although that's going to start eating into a pure PVE DPS spec pretty hard.

Looking at this comparison of enhancement set gear with other melee DPS gear, it's clear to me that there's a rather vast discrepancy in stamina. Even the rogue set (which, as we mention, is offset by rogue cooldowns to some degree) has more stamina than the shaman set, and the druid, DK, warrior and paladin sets all have massive amounts of stamina in comparison to shamans. Now, the druid set is to some degree intended for use by both feral cat and feral bear specs, which explains it's higher stamina to some extent, but we're still looking at 200 more stamina for feral druids even when comparing shaman set gear and not merely physical DPS mail itemized for both shamans and hunters. (And keep in mind, this is the Tier 8 set, not what your average shaman will be wearing into Ulduar but rather what he will be wearing after numerous clears.)

Looking now to a comparison of the Tier 7 25 man sets, you see much the same issue. Shamans are absolutely at the bottom of the stamina pecking order compared to druids, rogues, warriors, DK's and paladins. Now, I play a warrior as well, and I know that a lot of warriors actually complain that there's too much stamina on their DPS gear. Right about now I bet some enhancement shamans would take it, because the old adage about dead DPS is still true: if you're dead, you don't do any. Amazingly, even hunters have more stamina than shamans in Tier 7.

Now, to be fair, this doesn't take into account rings, trinkets, necks, belts or boots, much less non-set gear. Then again, it's not like shamans are going to be going after tank rings. Generally speaking, enhancement likes the same rings, trinkets and necks as every other melee DPS (save that they'll generally give the strength/stamina rings a pass over the agility/ap rings unless they're desperate for expertise) so it's not like any of that gear will somehow close the health gap for enhancement. As for non set mail pieces, they're almost always itemized for both hunters and shamans (comparing the Blue Aspect Helm, the Helm of the Furnace Master and the T8 shaman enhancement helm, however, we do find the Furnace Master has the most stamina of the three, but of course you lose DPS stats and a possible set bonus to wear it).

The stamina discrepancy, however, is only part of the issue. Aside from Feral Spirit and Shamanistic Rage, shamans have no real 'cooldowns' to speak of when AoE splash damage threatens to kill them before the already overstressed healers can react. Warriors of course rely on their massive health pools and can use macros to throw on a shield and hit Shield Wall. Paladins have their Divine Protection which doesn't even require them to equip anything. DK's have Anti-Magic Shell and Icebound Fortitude, druids can at least go bear (I'm pretty sure DPS ferals don't have all the clutch tanking abilities like Survival Instincts unless they're PvP but I won't pretend to expertise about what druids can and can't do with their specs) and rogues seem to be able to run through mines without taking damage. How do you guys do that? I admit I don't play a rogue or know how that's possible, I just know I see them do it all the time. I'm certainly aware of evasion but I don't think it works on AoE magic damage, although it's got to be helpful when gigantic viking maniacs start whirlwinding all over the place.

Shamans simply don't have a lot they can do in those situations save pop the wolves or use their ability that's mostly intended for mana regeneration. To be fair, though, those two abilities are reasonably strong. Shamanistic Rage is pretty comparable to Icebound Fortitude for a DPS DK (I minute vs 2 minutes, but mana regen and more damage reduction for the shaman ability) and Feral Spirit's Spirit Hunt ability is a significant help in keeping enhancement shamans alive. You do have to keep these abilities in mind, try and anticipate big damage spikes and use them proactively, then they're the equal of any classes cooldowns. There's also the possibility of using a Glyphed Stoneclaw Totem, if you can handle the loss of a GCD.

To my mind, it's not cooldowns, it's not armor (with a few cases - there are fights in Ulduar where there are whirlwind or other AoE melee mobs that shamans are simply not suited to be near, it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise, DKs, pallies and warriors have a big advantage here) and its not even talent choices, it's purely the lack of stamina on enhancement gear. Saying "spec for warding and toughness, noob" doesn't really address the issue, because it's very rare to hear about other melee DPS deliberately speccing for stamina over damage dealing talents. Raids expect their DPS to produce DPS, so shamans are caught in a situation where they can spec for survivability, do less damage, and be replaced by another class that can survive and do the damage, or they can spec for damage and pray that their healers will babysit them. With resto and elemental shamans and blood DK's providing pretty much every meaningful buff an enhancement shaman will, you can't fall back on "Bloodlust/Totems/Unleashed Rage make up for it" in a meaningful way. You can get those from people who aren't going to fall down as fast.

My basic idea would either to move Toughness to the first tier and possibly fold it into Ancestral Knowledge in some way, removing the movement slowing reduction and working that into some other talent like Improved Ghost Wolf. That might make Ancestral Knowledge a trifle OP, though, and I know that shamans who take that ability who are casters or healers might get upset if the int increase was reduced to balance it. It would also be possible to jack up stamina some on shaman gear, although that would probably cost us some DPS stats: again, it comes down to being dead or not, which is the same problem that affects shamans looking at talents like Toughness in the first place.

Next week, we're probably headed back to Ulduar for more gear.

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