Ghostcrawler on the future of totems

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Ghostcrawler on the future of totems
Earlier this week, Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) responded to some posts regarding totems. There have been some doom-and-gloom comments and, unfortunately, very few positive ones. (Nice to see Strawberry get a mention in one of GC's replies.) Since I'm now the elemental shaman columnist here, I thought I'd weigh in with my own thoughts on the matter.

Why does a DK not have to choose between horn of winter and desecration?

Because that is pretty much all the DK gets.

The shaman on the other hand gets to choose among Strength of Earth Totem, Windfury Totem, Wrath of Air Totem, Flametongue Totem, Tremor Totem, Healing Stream Totem, resistance Totems and Earthbind Totem, which doesn't even count Bloodlust / Heroism, and things like Unleashed Rage or Elemental Oath. If your buff was as competitive as theirs and you had so much versatility, we fear we'd see raids with many, many shaman in them. As it is, there's still a good chance for 3 shaman in a 25-player raid, while the DKs might get 2 slots if they're lucky.

You should get a slot because you are a good player, not because your buff rules.

From what GC is saying here, we can see that because we have multiple potential choices in buffs via totems, these buffs won't be quite as good as the ones provided from other classes. The problem with that is that even in a min-max raid environment, the shaman selects totems based on what other buffs are provided, rather than being brought along to specifically provide totem buffs. It's also worth noting that most of the differences between the buffs a shaman provides and those from other classes boil down to either range, activation or both. As it stands at the moment, you will make sure you have one shaman for Wrath of Air and an enhancement shaman for talented Strength of Earth. That will cover the only shaman-specific buffs you require for the average raid. In fact, you are more likely to stack paladins in a raid than shaman, to get three blessings on everyone (Sanc, Kings, Might or Wisdom, although enhancement shaman and retribution paladin would like to have all four), compared to having one shaman dropping Wrath of Air, Totem of Wrath/Flametongue and possibly Mana Spring, with a second doing Windfury and Strength of Earth, which will cover all of the "primary" raid buffs.

However, I think the "too many shaman" problem that he is worried about won't be related to the number of buffs we provide, but rather that the shaman is the only class one of the two classes that can cover healing, melee damage and ranged damage (edit: Ok, so I forgot druids can do everything). To look at the example, you would expect to see fewer death knights because they can only fill the tank or melee DPS spots, which may be 10 or so spots in a 25-man raid. Shaman, on the other hand, can cover 22 to 23 spots in the raid, anything that isn't a tank. I've seen (and been on) raids that have anywhere from four to six shaman, and all three specs are present. I plan on writing an article in the next few weeks about raid buff distribution, so I might add this role distribution bit in as well.

Looking forward to Cataclysm, though, the list of available raid buffs and debuffs posted by Ghostcrawler over here shows that most of the current buffs will be handled by other classes or specs as well. Increasing the availability of buffs while decreasing the number of different buffs available will reduce the overall impact of shaman on the raid, and thus hopefully improve the ability of shaman to get raid spots on their own merits rather than being a Swiss army knife of buffs.

Little dissapointed in GC's blatant disregard of our well documented arguments. He asks for constructive feedback of which we gave him 28 pages then proceeds to ignore it utterly. Bad Crab.

I didn't ignore it. I just disagree with it. It may be 28 pages, but there is a lot of QQ mixed in there with the intelligent posts (like Strawberry's).

Throughout the history of WoW, the problem has typically been that shaman (and paladin to be fair) bring too much utility and are therefore considered too mandatory. They started out in vanilla as buff classes -- the guys you bring who don't really do much themselves but bring buffs and debuffs that make every other class perform better. You couldn't for example just stack your raid with rogues and mages because their performance would be low without the shaman and paladins -- and before LK you had to bring enough to stick one in every group.

Now, we decided to change that design because we didn't think it felt very satisfying to be the buff bot spec who got brought along as if the player were some kind of scroll or flask to improve the "real players" performance. On the other hand, we knew it would be really brutal to the shaman and paladin to just rip away all of their utility and give them the typical 2 or so raid buffs that most other classes or spec get.

But we've definitely eroded it a little, and I'm not going to apologize much for that because we want to give players flexibility -- and flexibility means you can do a raid, especially a 10-player one, without a shaman or paladin. Nobody should be mandatory, except for a tank and a few healers. Nobody should be left out either, but the specs who got left out in LK did so because of low dps -- Arms, Frost mage and Subtlety rogue. Shaman did fine.

Believe me, I have thought long and hard about scrapping the entire buff / debuff system because players focus on it too much. But I know that if we did that, players would then focus too much on damage per second and healing per second of the best players out there. We also think it would be unfortunate to lose that sense of being so much more powerful in a group than you are solo.

For now, in Cataclysm, we are just sharing even more of the buffs and debuffs across a wide gamut, especially very powerful ones like Bloodlust and Battle Rez, and chilling out the impact of some of the more potent ones, say Sunder and Curse of Elements, while also cutting back on the sheer number of buffs brought by say the Ret paladin and Balance druid.

I am much more interested in discussions about say shaman dps totems and healing totems than I am about buff totems, because we believe the latter have much less to do with either your getting to raid or your raid being succesful.

In short, he says that shaman (and paladins) felt mandatory prior to Wrath of the Lich King because of the high utility but didn't really do much else. Blizzard obviously reduced the utility somewhat but felt to do so completely would gut the class. He goes on to say that he has thought about scrapping the buff/debuff system because players focus on it too much, and he's right.

Most people have focused on the high number of totems and other raid buffs as the reason why elemental and enhancement shaman haven't been up the top of the damage charts. That is more due to itemization and scaling than the fact that we provide a lot of buffs. Strangely enough, I'm also going to look at that in the near future, as I know a number of people are asking about it for elemental.

The last comment in that post, about being more interested in talking about DPS or healing totems, is the bit we should really be focusing on. Enhancement doesn't really have much of an issue with DPS totem placement because they're right up with the rest of the melee, but elemental has a harder time, since Searing currently has a 30-yard range, Magma and Fire Nova require that you drop your totem in the middle of your target group, and the Fire Elemental has range and control issues as well.

Increasing the range of Searing, adding some sort of "totemic throw" (maybe for elemental only) and turning the elemental totems into properly controlled pets would go a long way to correcting the only real problems with DPS totems. The rest would be purely numbers or giving Totemic Wrath a self-bonus in the spirit of all the other raid buff talents out there.

My second char is a Enhanc Shaman, and I worj really hard to be a competitive melee DPS in ICC, but we do have problem in this area.

Enhance does fine on stationary fights like Saurfang and Festergut, but drops behind on heavy movement fights, and unfortunately the fight that counts the most has a lot of movement.

But that's not a totem problem. That's because so much of Enhancement's dps is tied up in getting procs on quick attacks. If a warrior has to move, it may not hurt them as much because their abilities are on longer cooldowns anyway and they can even store up on the rage. For energy classes it's even better because they can just unload when they do get back in range. But Enhancement just lost out on those procs, and they aren't coming back.

We're okay with some specs doing better on some fights than others, but we think Enhancement suffers a little too much when they have to move (and they aren't the only ones - Balance druids and even Elementals are in a similar bucket). We're trying to address this in Cataclysm without removing what it is that players like about Enhance.

But again, this doesn't have a lot to do with totems. They might have to drop their totems again, but that dps loss is arguably neglibile compared to the loss of not being able to deal damage for short times.

Again, another example of why DPS problems aren't totem issues. I can't comment on the enhancement side of things, but hopefully Spiritwalker's Grace and Unleash Weapons will help with these problems.

The core of the argument here is this - if you're looking for a 20% haste buff, you look for the best version of the 20% haste buff when you can get. It doesn't matter to you if that haste buff could be something else - you just wanted the 20% haste buff. So why should one version of the 20% haste buff be weaker because of that?

I don't honestly things this type of scenario occurs half as often as forum posters insist that it occurs, but bear with me for a moment:

Two Frost DKs show up for a raid. The first one says "I bring the melee haste buff. Can I come?" The second one says "I bring the same buff. Can you guys just bring me anyway?"

Two Enhancement shaman show up for a raid. The first one says "I bring the melee haste buff. Can I come?" The second one says "It's cool. I'll just drop Wrath of Air, or maybe Grounding or Nature Resist if the fight calls for it."

Again, probably apocryphal. What more likely happens is the raid leader says "Both those guys are good players. Let's bring them both." Even the pug leader is more likely to look at gear or achievements and not say "Nope, we'd rather bring this random Frost DK whom I don't know because he has a dependable buff rather than this Enhance shaman I don't know."

Ghostcrawler is fairly accurate here. It's entirely more likely that players will try to stack the raid in their favor for loot distribution rather than trying to pick up a better version of a buff. Incidentally, with the adjusted raid buffs announced last week, the only buff/debuff conflict like that anymore would be Flametongue totem's 6 percent spellpower bonus, compared with the 10 percent from demonology warlocks or elemental shaman. Windfury is a base 20 percent in Cataclysm, and there are no "buff buffs" via talents anymore either (aside from actually allowing said buff).

So, in short, it sounds like the development team is interested in DPS and healing totems and doesn't think that there are many other issues with totems at the moment. Just remember that it is planning on increasing totem range in the near future, as well as making Searing Totem controllable. Cataclysm is just around the corner, and it's looking better every day.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it. Nothing will be the same. In's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion. From goblins and worgens to mastery and guild changes, it's all there for your cataclysmic enjoyment.
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