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Totem Talk: Mastery vs. haste for elemental shaman

Josh Myers

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.)

Those of you following my Twitter feed might have read how I managed to go an entire content patch without ever getting tier 12 shoulders for the main spec of my main class. So when I heard that Blizzard's amazing idea for getting people tier gear more quickly was too entirely remove tier from valor point vendors, the part of me that saw something like two or three protector shoulder tokens drop in five months of raiding was very skeptical.

That said, there are already people running around Orgrimmar with full sets of tier gear. Between weekly Raid Finder and a weekly run of Dragon Soul, you have four to six chances to see your token drop, with even higher chances for gloves and legs due to Baradin Hold. This is really good news for elemental, because our newly lackluster tier 12 needs to be replaced as soon as possible with the very shiny Spiritwalker's Regalia. The bad news? Everything you knew about elemental gearing in Firelands is gone, just like your permanent Fire Elemental Totem.

Those of you who played elemental at the start of Cataclysm may remember a time when mastery was as good as haste and balancing the two stats was ideal. With Firelands, mastery fell by the wayside. It was still a good stat, but it couldn't compete with haste. Now that 4.3 has hit, we're starting to see mastery coming back into the limelight. It's like the Neil Patrick Harris of elemental stats -- starts off strong, fades into the background for 10 years (or five months), and comes back to outshine everything around it.

In a new post over at Totemspot, Binkenstein gets into some of the reasons for mastery's triumphant return. First, though, we have to look at haste. As Binkenstein points out, haste works differently for elemental shaman than it does for most DoT classes. For DoT classes, haste is valuable up to a specific break point, which is the point where the DoT gains a new tick. For example, fire mages this patch are generally gearing to get 2,005 haste, which is the point where Combustion gains a 13th tick.

Elemental, always a special snowflake

For elemental, the actual DoT ticks being added at break points are relatively useless because Flame Shock is such a low portion of our actual DPS. However, haste break points (graphed here) also have the benefit of resetting your Flame Shock duration to its base 27 seconds. Immediately after the break point, any haste you add actually causes your Flame Shock DoT to extend past 27 seconds, upwards to 28 or 29 seconds. The more haste you add, the less time is added on to your Flame Shock DoT, until you reach your next break point and it's exactly 27 seconds again.

Sound confusing? To put it a little more simply: First, assume you have Wrath of Air down, which you always should. With Wrath of Air, your haste breakpoint for an 11th Flame Shock tick is 1,423. When you're at 1,423 haste, your Flame Shock should be 27 seconds long. If you were to slowly add haste, you'd also add a small duration increase to your Flame Shock DoT. When I was researching this on the target dummies, I found the sweet spot for a 28- to 29-second FS DoT was between 1,675 and 1,750 haste.

The reason haste's value increases drastically as you pass these break points and start increasing Flame Shock's duration is because the increased DoT length allows you to fit in more spell casts between Flame Shock applications. Since Flame Shock is our actual lowest effective DPS ability, it's the spell we want to cast least, and being able to squeeze in another spellcast or two every Flame Shock is a great boon.

Mastering how to use mastery

Of course, when you're past these break points and your DoT is back to being almost 27 seconds, haste starts losing some of its relative value compared to mastery. Coupled with our four-piece tier 13 bonus, mastery starts to outshine haste once it passes these extra-DoT-duration sweet spots.

Our four-piece bonus causes every Elemental Overload that triggers to grant us a short-term 250 haste buff, which can stack up to three times. The more mastery we stack, the more overloads we proc. The more overloads we proc, the more uptime we have on our three-stack 750 haste buff, essentially giving us free haste in return for gearing for mastery. It's a beautiful synergy.

Granted, we're probably not going to be looking at 100% uptime on the 750 haste buff, at least if Binkenstein's preliminary spreadsheet was correct. His math puts us at needing a whopping 3,500+ mastery in order to have the haste buff up full time. While this may be possible in heroic Dragon Soul gear, chances are you'd have to forgo too much haste to make it worth your while.

The last part of mastery's return to glory is that more and more players are gaining access to Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa's Rest. Dragonwrath's proc works much like elemental's mastery to begin with, with the benefit of proccing off both an Elemental Overload and the spell that procced it. This means that every mastery proc you have when you're using the legendary gives you another chance to activate the legendary's own potent proc. Haste, on the other hand, just allows you to squeeze in more full-strength spells per minute, but the rate of proccing Dragonwrath drops down a small amount.

So what does this all mean? It means that there is no clear-cut gearing schema for elemental in patch 4.3. It all depends on your gear and what you have available to you. This is why programs like SimulationCraft are so important, as they help you understand what stat is best for your current gear. (If you need help learning to use SC, check out Moshne's excellent guide at Totemspot.) The same basic rules stay the same: Hit needs to be at 1,742, intellect is still the king of stats, and crit is still to be avoided like it's a blog post by Fox Van Allen. The only thing you need to figure out is whether haste or mastery is right for you.

Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk: Enhancement every week. We've got enhancement-specific advice on the latest gear and tier gear set bonuses, and we'll help you dig in and learn to level the enhancement way.

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