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Totem Talk: How to manage your elemental totems

Josh Myers

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Totem Talk for elemental, enhancement, and restoration shaman. On Saturdays, Josh Myers tackles the hard questions about enhancement. Can we tank? Can we DPS with a two-hander? How does one shoot web? The answer to the first two is "no," and I have no idea about the third.

Elemental totems are one of those weird aspects of our class that are never as likable as they're intended to be. In Wrath of the Lich King, Fire Elemental Totem was a welcome DPS increase, but his 10-minute cooldown made him incredibly frustrating to plan fights around. By comparison, our Earth Elemental Totem has never had much of a part in our raiding game.

Cataclysm has changed all that. Not only has it removed the shared cooldown between the totems (making it so you can drop both elementals at once), but we've also seen changes to our basic functionality that impacts our totem usage. Learning how to use these totems correctly is a vital part of maximizing our DPS.

Code Name: Sparky

We're starting with Fire Elemental Totem (code name: Sparky). Sparky has a 10-minute long cooldown that cannot be reduced. He also has a 2-minute duration that can be increased to 3 minutes and 12 seconds by subspeccing resto and grabbing Totemic Focus. This is a terrible idea, as Sparky is never used for his full 2-minute durations as it is. Sparky is also improved by speccing into Call of Flame, which we do anyway for Searing Totem damage.

Fire Elemental Totem has two main abilities. First is a single-target Fire Blast similar to the mage ability of the same name, which he uses every 8 seconds or so. His second key ability is Fire Nova, which functions and looks similar to our shaman spell but which emanates from the elemental rather than from the totem itself. During testing, he seemed to cast Fire Nova every 5 to 10 seconds.

Sparky also has a Fire Shield, which functions similarly to a Metamorphosed warlock's Immolation Aura. This Fire Shield ticks for really mediocre damage every 3 seconds. Unbuffed, mine hit for 250 damage and crit for 500. Finally, Fire Elemental has a basic melee attack that is actually really potent. He has a 4-second swing speed, and my unbuffed Fire Elemental crit for slightly under 16k at one point during my testing. His lowest hits were glancing blows for around 4k damage, with his regular melee punches hitting for approximately 6,000 damage.

At first glance, Sparky might look as if he measures up to be a respectable DPS cooldown, even on single-target fights. There is some truth to this, as he averages around 2,000 DPS for the 2 minutes he is alive. Unfortunately, this is misleading. Greater Fire Elemental Totem is a fire totem. This means for his short, 2-minute life, there is no Searing Totem spewing tiny fireballs at the enemy boss' face. Searing Totem by itself does around 2,000 DPS. Once you factor in the Searing Flames DoT and the increased damage from Improved Lava Lash, our normal fire totem wipes the floor with Fire Elemental Totem.

Fortunately for Sparky, things aren't all bad for him. His Fire Nova is a potent AoE ability in its own right. Even better, we can use our own Fire Nova off his totem. On fights with AoE components, Fire Elemental Totem becomes your cooldown of choice, provided you can train your tanks to tank multiple mobs on the totem for maximum AoE damage. For fights like Halfus Wyrmbreaker when the whelps are awake or Maloriak's abomination phase, Fire Elemental Totem becomes an excellent cooldown ... even if you just drop him for 10 to 15 seconds.

Some fights with AoE components make dropping Fire Elemental Totem a little more difficult. He'll only attack mobs you're already in combat with. For fights like Cho'gall's Corrupted Blood phase, this means you have to fire off a shock, run into melee range, drop the totem, and then run out before getting meleed and gaining Corruption stacks. If you can do it, great job!

Code Name: Bullwinkle

Earth Elemental Totem (code name: Bullwinkle) is a strange beast. In theory, it is our tanking cooldown. Much like Fire Elemental Totem, Bullwinkle has a 2-minute baseline duration and a 10-minute cooldown. Also like Fire Elemental Totem, he's stuck to a 5-HP stick in the ground that can be destroyed to take him out of the game. Like Fire Elemental Totem, Bullwinkle scales with the shaman's spellpower. Unlike Sparky, your earth elemental itself is more rugged and durable, with the ability to survive even a few melee attacks from bosses.

Earth Elemental Totem has only one ability to be aware of, called Angered Earth. Angered Earth is an AoE taunt with no cooldown that the earth elemental uses whenever he feels like it. Seriously. He's not the best at anger management and can use this ability either once every 30 seconds or spam it in quick succession. Angered Earth also increases his threat for the next 15 seconds. Beyond Angered Earth, he melees pathetically.

The original design for Earth Elemental Totem was a totem that tanks for you. When you're soloing (and possibly in heroic 5-mans), Bullwinkle can still fit this purpose. However, around the time of 4.0.6., Blizzard made raid bosses immune to pet taunts. This was intended to prevent raid boss stategies like the Voidwalker tanking 3-drake Sartharion from Wrath of the Lich King. As a result, Voidwalkers and hunter's Tenacity taunts don't work on raid bosses. The unintended consequence of this change was also removing the Greater Earth Elemental's ability to taunt bosses (though the extra aggro from Angered Earth remains). Translation: Earth Elemental Totem cannot taunt bosses but still stands there and melees for 2 minutes. He's your new DPS cooldown.

As DPS cooldowns go, Earth Elemental Totem is beyond weak. My logs from 10-man Chimaeron show him contributing 600 DPS over his duration. As the fight was a 4-minute fight, that meant he increased my DPS by a whopping 300 DPS. In the Cataclysm raiding game, that's not a huge increase. At the same time, it is free DPS. Free DPS is always a nice thing.

The unfortunate thing about Earth Elemental Totem is that he's an earth totem. As a result, he's actually a DPS loss if you don't have another person in the raid supplying the Strength of Earth Totem buff, such as a warrior or death knight. Additionally, for fights like Nefarian when you need to drop your Stoneclaw Totem as much as possible, he becomes a risk to use. If you do have a warrior or death knight buffing you with strength and agility, Earth Elemental is a DPS increase on any fight where he can melee freely for 2 minutes straight. This is most fights in tier 11 raiding, so enjoy your free DPS increase!

Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk: Enhancement every week. We've got enhancement-specific advice on rep gear, heroic gear, and raiding gear, plus tips on maximizing your utility skills and tactics for raiding Blackwing Descent.

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