Totem Talk: Choosing to play an elemental shaman

Josh Myers
J. Myers|09.25.11

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Totem Talk: Choosing to play an elemental shaman
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Totem Talk for elemental, enhancement, and restoration shaman. Josh Myers once only tackled the hard questions about enhancement but has recently expanded his sphere of responsibility to all shaman DPS specs. (And no, two-handed enhancement is still never coming back.)

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post on why new shaman should choose enhancement. Enhancement was my first love in this game and the reason I was finally able to break my streak of level 20 to 40 alts and level to 70 in The Burning Crusade. First loves aren't everything, though. (There's a reason the American divorce rate is something around 40%). This post is for my second love and the other option for leveling shaman. This is why you should choose an elemental shaman.

Elemental shaman are ranged casters. Lightning Bolt will be your primary damage spell, particularly at low levels. Earth Shock is a very good burst damage ability when you're very low-level but doesn't scale as well as Lightning Bolt. You'll want to use it for the first 15 to 20 levels, and then forego using it in lieu of another Lightning Bolt until you reach the Fulmination talent. Thunderstorm is also incredible damage at low levels and possibly more useful as a damage spell than a knockback spell until you level up and mobs start to be an actual threat. Lava Burst becomes available at level 34. Lava Burst is the lynchpin of the elemental rotation, and you should get used to keeping Flame Shock up on a target, Lava Bursting whenever it is available and Lightning Bolting in between.

What is elemental?

There are pros and cons to elemental. Since you're a ranged caster, you take less damage from mobs you face and have tools to stay at range to keep it that way. This taking less damage trend will continue even when raiding, as bosses tend to have abilities that punish melee more than ranged. On the flipside, for mobs that do get in your melee range and stay there, you have the unfortunate plague of spell pushback. This means that their melee hits on you will slightly delay your casts, which can be downright annoying.

The playstyle is also very different from an enhancement shaman. Playing enhancement is like "Finger DDR" or playing Whack-A-Mole with your action bars, due to using instant attacks that trigger the GCD. Elemental shaman cast all their abilities, which generally means slightly more breathing room for decision making. It also means that generally, most elemental abilities do more damage than enhancement abilities, since enhancement has the added buffer of things like auto-attacking, Windfury Weapon, and Flametongue Weapon that don't require hitting buttons to activate. Elemental has more of the feeling of a controlled, powerful spellcaster, compared to enhancement's frenzied berserker.

Be smart with your stats

As an elemental shaman, you're looking for intellect gear. Intellect is your favorite stat in the world. You want so much intellect that Mensa members are jealous of you. Intellect provides mana, some spell critical strike, and the all-important spellpower.

After intellect, you're generally looking for haste while you level up. (Mastery will become available at 80, and this is a stat that's only slightly worse than haste.) Haste will allow you to cast spells faster, which translates into killing mobs faster. Critical strike rating works while leveling, but remember that the automatic crits of Lava Burst means that that spell sees absolutely no benefit from critical strike rating.

The leveling game

Elemental works very well as a leveling spec. Thunderstorm, Earthbind Totem, Frost Shock, and Stoneclaw Totem all work to keep mobs off of you. Wind Shear is excellent utility against caster mobs, as is Grounding Totem. Your large mana pool and access to the healing spells from restoration gives you some excellent survivability, and heals combined with Water Shield make your need to stop and eat or drink almost nonexistent.

Elemental's main strength as a leveling spec, however, comes in controlled burst damage. While enhancement has some nice burst in Windfury Weapon procs, it has no control over when those procs will happen. Elemental has the ability to cause an instant, high-damage, critical hit on Lava Burst every 8 seconds. While leveling an elemental shaman in the Cataclysm beta, I was able to kill mobs in three hits through most of the late 30s, 40s, and 50s -- a nice Lightning Bolt cast to pull the mob, Flame Shock, and Lava Burst to finish them off. If the Lava Burst doesn't actually kill them, the 18 seconds of Flame Shock's damage-over-time portion will.

Talking totems

Elemental also utilizes its totem spells significantly better than enhancement. I talked two weeks ago about how enhancement was the most mobile leveling spec, but that this also meant a lot of foregoing dropping totems. Elemental is a lot more like a turret, dropping Wrath of Air, Flametongue Totem (Searing Totem isn't worth it when the mob dies in 8 seconds), Mana Spring Totem, and Stoneclaw Totem for the personal shield, and then casting spells at every mob within their range. With the 40-yard range on totems and the 40-yard range on Lightning Bolt, you have a large area of enemies you can kill before moving on.

This isn't to say that elemental isn't a mobile spec. While it doesn't have access to instant Ghost Wolf until a very high level, it has the potential for a lot of mobile damage. Glyph of Unleashed Lightning allows your primary damage-dealing and longest-cast-time spell to be cast on the move. Coupled with that is the fact that shocks, one of your other main source of damage, are instant, you have a good 70% of your damage usable while moving. Your only non-mobile cast is Lava Burst, and its 1.5-second cast is incredibly short.

So, should you play an elemental question? It's a good question. Play an elemental shaman if:
  • You want to play a ranged class.
  • You want little downtime while leveling (a perk shared with enhancement!).
  • You want to be able to control your damage output.
  • You don't want to rely on procs or RNG for your damage
  • You can handle watching multiple cooldowns and damage over time effects at the same time.
  • You want to be a very mobile damage dealer.

Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk: Elemental. Let's get down to business with a heart-to-heart on fixing the fire elemental problem, and then join us for a discussion of best practices for elemental shaman.

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