Totem Talk: Elemental shaman in patch 4.3

Josh Myers
J. Myers|11.26.11

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Totem Talk: Elemental shaman in patch 4.3
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.)

This is it, guys: This is officially the last Totem Talk for elemental shaman I will write before patch 4.3 hits live servers. It might be this Tuesday, or it might be the sixth of December. Whichever it is, it's pretty definite we'll be seeing Dragon Soul within the next 10 days, barring a natural disaster, an alien invasion, or Mike Morhaime's changing his mind, of course.

Elemental is going through a few significant changes in 4.3. Our AoE will be totally revamped; we'll be dropping Fire Nova from our AoE rotation entirely. Instead, we'll be falling back on spamming the now cooldown-less Chain Lightning. Also, we'll possibly drop Earthquake, but only if we can guarantee the mobs don't move for 10 seconds. Ground-based AoEs are still very unreliable AoE damage.

Changing priorities

Beyond heightened AoE DPS, the Chain Lightning cooldown change will also change single-target priority systems, especially at lower gear levels. Current simulation finds that due to the higher base damage and shorter cast time on Chain Lightning, using a non-glyphed Chain Lightning as a filler spell in place of Lightning Bolt can be a DPS increase. This would make your stand-still priority:
  1. Searing Totem/Fire Elemental if not up
  2. Flame Shock if not up (or if it will wear off before finishing your next spellcast)
  3. Lava Burst
  4. Fulmination, provided at least 7 stacks of Lightning Shield (and 6+ seconds left on your Flame Shock)
  5. Chain Lightning
Note, though, that Chain Lightning has both a lower chance for mastery procs and Chain Lightning's lower coefficient (the increase spellpower contributes to a spell's damage). As a result, when you start getting into Dragon Soul gear, it will start being a DPS loss. The bonuses on your tier 13 gear also makes Lightning Bolt a better filler spell. It also looks like having full raid buffs drastically decreases the benefits of using CL over LB, though a little more confirmation is needed. If true, this change will likely only benefit elemental shaman in heroics or 10-man raids without a caster-focused composition.

If you do go the way of using Chain Lightning as your filler spell, mana management will most likely become much more of an issue than you're used to. While you can use Thunderstorm for mana regeneration, this isn't advised, as global cooldowns spent using Thunderstorm negate the benefit of switching to Chain Lightning. As Binkenstein suggests, using Chain Lightning twice after a Lava Burst to ensure Clearcasting is up can lessen the blow to your mana pool. Conversely, you can deplete your mana to a level you're comfortable with and switch back to Lightning Bolt until Rolling Thunder tops you off.

A farewell to the Fire Elemental

The next big change to look out for is the large nerf we're getting in our two-piece Tier-12, which was pretty well known as the only reason we were competitive in Firelands. Gone are the days of a permanent Fire Elemental Totem. The new bonus reduces the cooldown on your Fire Elemental totem by a whole 4 seconds, and is only a 30% chance to proc off of Lightning Bolt.

As I've said in the past, this nerf was needed to prevent us from using the two-piece until 5.0 hit. Since Fire Elemental scaled so well with the rest of our gear, the lower ilevels of heroic tier 12 would not have been enough to dissuade us from wearing it through all of Dragon Soul in order to retain our permanent pet. As a result, feel free to ditch your tier 12 as soon as you start grabbing higher-ilevel Dragon Soul pieces.

Until you ditch the bonus, though, keep in mind that you'll be wanting to use your Fire Elemental as soon as possible, in order to get the cooldown started so your bonus can get to work. Remember the great rule of the Fire Elemental Totem, and make sure to always have spellpower buffs up when you drop it. Dropping FET while under the effect of Volcanic Potion and your Darkmoon Card: Volcano's proc is what makes FET such awesome damage, and neglecting paying attention to these procs is will still be one of the real ways to kill your DPS as elemental in 4.3.

Small and simple is sometimes good

The rest of the changes to elemental are numbers buffs. The Flametongue Weapon change amounts to a small damage nerf, but it is outweighed by the buff to spell coefficients through Shamanism, which results in a net damage buff. The developers also mentioned a minor buff to FET's damage, but that change hasn't actually sown up in the patch notes. That doesn't mean it isn't implemented on the PTR, though.

As a whole, elemental is doing well in 4.3. While I disagree with the damage we lose from the nerf to our tier gear, I do realize Blizzard took some steps to counter that loss in numbers buffs. After all, a sweeping change to Fire Elemental in the middle of an expansion is not the sort of change Blizzard implements in content patches. Our numbers are looking fine, with current Simulationcraft parses putting us just below 50,000 DPS in Patchwerk-style encounters in 4.3.

However, going forward, I hope that what Blizzard takes from 4.2 is that our reliance on a 10-minute-long cooldown isn't fun. It wasn't fun for enhancement in Wrath of the Lich King, when we were choosing which fights to maximize our DPS while feeling underpowered every other fight. It wasn't fun in Firelands, when elemental's viability as a DPS spec largely depended on a brokenly powerful set bonus and a pet with a limited AI and poor motor skills. A fix is needed for Mists of Pandaria, even if it's just removing the elementals entirely and calling them a failed experiment.
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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