Before you head out to the wild blue yonder
If you haven't already, bind your hearthstone to Stormwind or Orgrimmar as appropriate. I'm still a little deflated that Ironforge won't be as convenient, but the revived Stormwind more than makes up for my disappointment. My dwarf shaman has chosen The Golden Keg, which contains the shaman trainers and beer; it also has easy access to amenities (the new dwarf district bank and auction house). That particular tavern is also close to the new 80+ zone portals, essential for efficient travel in Cataclysm. In Orgrimmar the most convenient Innkeeper appears to be Miwana, in the Valley of Wisdom, who is likely to be a very popular Innkeeper for Horde, as she's right next to a big clump of tauren trainers and the lift to the flight path and zone portals on the top level.
Grab your Flight Master's License and do a mini-tour of all the profession trainers. Nothing is more frustrating than gathering and then realizing that you've been maxed out for the last 10 nodes. Or more. Ahem. Have a clean-out of your bags; do you really need the Skyshatter Regalia and RP gear while leveling? Keep any remaining buff foods and flasks around, though; it never hurts to top up your stats for a particularly challenging quest or an early dungeon. Early PUGs may well be challenging, to put it diplomatically, so every little edge is a help.
Elemental specs for leveling
I got a lot of questions asking about leveling specs, but I don't feel that a dedicated leveling spec is worth it for five levels. I'm not planning on changing up my current spec for leveling, as I felt very little need to do so on my first couple of run-throughs on beta. As with Patch 4.0.1, the main choices are made for the 25th talent point, needed to activate Feedback and Lava Surge, and for the 41st talent point, the last one you get to spend.
Taking the current raid build and working toward Ancestral Swiftness and Totemic Reach in the enhancement tree is the obvious direction to take, as instant Ghost Wolf is just gloriously fun and useful. Totemic Reach now stacks with Elemental Reach, as of The Shattering, giving Searing Totem a glorious 41-yard range. What's not to love about that? Reverberation vs. Convection is an interesting choice to make. On the one hand, there will be timing issues surrounding Earth Shock and Flame Shock, at least once shaman have divested themselves of Frost Witch Regalia. Shocks all share a cooldown, and it is pretty common to have a fully stacked Earth Shock ready to go when Flame Shock needs to be refreshed. However, when soloing and on most dungeon trash, the likelihood of needing to recast Flame Shock is very low. For this reason, Convection becomes attractive for leveling to help reduce down time both alone and in parties, if you would like to respec for the leveling experience.
However, if you really want to try something different and don't really enjoy the Lava Surge mechanic, you could try a Lava Surge-less build, which picks up Convection and Reverberation. A lot of mobs die too quickly to really benefit from this talent, but I don't recommend this build unless you're feeling bored or overwhelmed by the addition of Unleash Elements. Don't keep the Lava Surge-less build at 85, as it's still enough of a boost to make it worth mastering as part of an endgame rotation.
The spirits have granted us new abilities
At level 81, we get Unleash Elements. This spell essentially is an instant-cast boost to the subsequent fire spell you cast. I'll talk about its uses in a raid rotation another time, but for leveling, I found it worked best as a boost to Lava Burst or saved for damaging while moving out of the fire. Or poison.
Out in the wild, mobs don't take that long to die, so Flame Shock won't have time to tick out. The upshot of this is that breaking the four-piece bonus of your T10 set is not really an issue. Open up with a Lightning Bolt for a chance to proc Clearcasting, walk (or swim) backwards while laying on Flame Shock and Unleash Elements, then glorify in the gorgeous numbers of Lava Burst and Lightning Bolt until target death. Make liberal use of Wind Shear, Hex, and Thunderstorm to aide in survival, and keep Bind Elemental close to hand. Many mobs hit hard or have stealthed friends, so the ability to move and cast on the move will be a real help. If you decide not to use UE as an opener, movement DPS is where UE really shines for leveling.
At 83, you'll be heading back to the trainer to pick up Healing Rain. Not exactly a spectacular spell for us elemental shaman, but it pays to help your healer out by plonking it under the tank and melee during boss fights. Alternatively, plonk it under your own feet or where the party healer has placed an AoE heal. At 85, we get our grubby mitts on Spiritwalker's Grace. The first time I saw this spell, I was very happy, but it does require a little practice to get usage right. I find running while casting very unsettling. At this point, you'll be 85 and preparing for raids, so don't worry about SWG, as it's commonly referred to, while leveling.
Totems are fairly simple. Both while soloing and dungeoneering, I often pared down my set until I was only dropping Wrath of Air and Searing Totem, but I often found that my other buffs were covered by other party members, so my water totem was inevitably Healing Stream or Tranquil Mind. When soloing or tackling trash mobs, I often didn't bother with a totem stomp, mainly due to the mana drain. Lessening the number of totems per stomp helped to combat that, but paying attention to the buffs other players bring remains an important part of the dungeon experience.
Picking the right glyphs
Stock up on Dust of Disappearance. As much as I can advise here until I'm blue in the face, ultimately, glyph choices are personal to you and your playstyle. Be prepared to switch around until you find a combination of primes, majors and minors that you are comfortable with. Standard prime glyphs really don't change. Glyph of Flame Shock is only worth it if you are spending a lot of time leveling in dungeons. Out in the wilds, I don't think it's worth making the switch even for the tougher mobs. Stick with Glyph of Lightning Bolt, Glyph of Lava Burst, and Glyph of Flametongue Weapon until you can smell the fear wafting out of those heroics dungeons. If that last glyph bores you to tears, take Glyph of Fire Elemental instead.
Major glyphs are a little more complicated, but still personal. Glyph of Lightning Shield will remain a standard glyph, because refreshing it is just annoying. I found Glyph of Hex pretty useful, especially in double CC situations, except when the tank broke all the CC. Ho hum. If you instance a lot with mages and warlocks, you may not find your CC talents so much in demand. Glyph of Chain Lightning is, above all things, a fun glyph. If you like big numbers and overloads, this glyph will fill you with glee. However, it's less appropriate to use when CCed targets are close to the main pack, so I think it is worth revisiting when player skill and gear has caught up with the new heroic style. Glyph of Elemental Mastery saved my bacon more than a few times when dealing with a hard-hitting quest target, so I recommend it if you like having a survivability cooldown. Glyph of Healing Stream also has its uses, but there are more attractive options, such as Glyph of Thunder. Being able to use the knockback and the mana return more often is pretty useful for soloing.
Minor glyphs are still in need of a little life. Expunge the need for reagents completely, or remove the knockback from Thunderstorm in favor of more mana. Personally, I love the knockback that Thunderstorm provides and found it extremely useful for soloing, so at most, I might swap it in for a particularly brisk dungeon. Even then, I'd be more likely to swap in Glyph of Thunder than Glyph of Thunderstorm.
Quests and gear
Cataclysm is the shaman expansion. Wrath was pretty special for a lot of reasons, not least that paladin lore was in the spotlight. The Shattering reintroduced us to the Earthen Ring, we got see Thrall the shaman, and Vashj'ir and Deepholm are full of shamanistic lore and characters. Originally, I wanted to pick out the best lore quests, but just quest the whole zones and pay attention. Also, keep an eye on that Erunak guy, and I hope you get to play through Vashj'ir for a while before heading into Throne of the Tides. I can't do much more than chortle with glee at that instance, due to the sheer amount of awesome it entails.
The juicy quest gear starts appearing in Deepholm, but as usual, the superior choices come from dungeons, crafting and rep/justice point vendors. Early quest rewards tend to come loaded with spirit and crit, but keep an eye out for haste gear, and try to stick to mail items unless you've only just respecced from enhancement and are desperate for intellect gear. That 5 percent intellect is just too good to pass up. Mastery is pretty plentiful on quest gear, and while I value haste slightly higher, mastery is still much better than crit. Quest gear is also a great opportunity to play around more with reforging, a great solution if the changing combat ratings leave you feeling haste-starved.
I've got a brand new reputation and I'll give you the key
Justice points aside, it is worth considering reputations while leveling. The best rewards won't be available until level 85, but many of the factions have useful items available at honored, which is easily reached by questing through the relevant zone.
The Dragonmaw Clan
is also available as counterpoint to the Wildhammer Clan; however, its rewards are the same as Wildhammer. All the items listed as honored are intended for use while leveling, so my advice is to hit both Vashj'ir and Mount Hyjal on the way to 85, and complete Deepholm and a few Therazane dailies before moving on to Uldum. The factions not listed here are Baradin Wardens and Hellscreams Reach, but they aren't available until level 85.
However you get to level 85, there is a lot of fun and choice to be had along the way. I feel like Blizzard has done a good job with the supply of gear, the choice of glyphs and playstyle. I could have gone on a lot about the shaman lore in this expansion, but I really don't like spoiling storylines. Enjoy the vistas, enjoy the stories. See you in game.
Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk. Whether it's Sarah Nichol's elemental edition, Joe Perez's coverage of restoration or Rich Maloy's enhancement edition, WoW Insider's shaman experts have you covered.