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Totem Talk: What to expect when you're enhancing (in 5.0.4)

Josh Myers
August 25, 2012

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Look up in the sky! Is it a bird-form druid? An engineer in a flying machine? No, it's a wild Josh Myers, returned from summer adventures and bursting with knowledge about DPS shaman in his weekly Totem Talk. This week will focus on enhancement shaman for brevity, but I haven't forgotten my elemental brethren. Next week, you'll have all my attention to yourselves.

Hello again, Totem Talk! I apologize for my disappearing act the last few months, but I started a new job as a summer camp director six weeks before camp began, which requires a phenomenal time investment during the summer. Also, my boyfriend got diagnosed with MS and my mom with uterine cancer, so my life has turned into a frost giant's stress ball. And, because I'm a masochist, I decided to start personal training, because I didn't have enough stresses on my schedule or my body.

But I'm back! Summer is winding down, and with its slumber comes a slightly less hectic work schedule for me, which should mean more time playing and writing about WoW. This is convenient, seeing as patch 5.0.4 releases this Tuesday, and I've left my league of adoring fans, frenemies, and people bored enough to read my articles without any enhancement or elemental guidance for far too long.

A lot of the changes coming in patch 5.0.4 are the very generic ones that we've covered in the past, such as the total overhaul of the talent/glyph systems for every class in the game. For those overarching game changes, you'll want to check out the most recent patch notes we've posted, as well as Anne's 5.0.4 primer. This post will deal more with the actual nitty-gritty of what's changing for enhancement specifically. This post is aimed toward maximizing your level 85 shaman during the month in between 5.0.4 and Mist of Pandaria's actual release, so that you can spend that month learning how to play before release.

Enhancement, enhanced

Enhancement hasn't changed much on the beta. When I first started playing it a few months ago, this depressed me; I'm the sort of player who likes grand sweeping changes and constantly needing to relearn how to play. That's not the best class design, though. Blizzard has kept the core of the class the same but made a number of quality-of-life changes that will enhance the overall playing experience.

Totem Talk What to expect when you're enhancing in 504 SAT
A lot of these changes revolve around Searing Flames, the bane of a Cataclysm enhancement shaman's DPS. First off, they've retooled Searing Totem's AI, making it less likely to randomly spit fireballs at mobs you aren't attacking. Second, Searing Flames will now stack on the shaman rather than the mob being hit by Searing Totem, which significantly reduces DPS ramp-up time during target swaps. Lastly, they've added the ability to stack Searing Flames to your Fire Elemental Totem, which will make it a viable DPS cooldown for enhancement. (And as a quality-of-life change, the cooldown of FET has been reduced to five minutes for 5.0.4, which means you'll have it up every boss attempt.)

Next, we've got changes to our totem mechanics. All of our buffs are becoming passive and always active; these are Burning Wrath, Unleashed Rage, and Grace of Air. There will be no passive buff totems. Totems have been changed to all be abilities you use for a reason. You'll need to get used to using Healing Tide Totem or Healing Stream Totem when you need healing or Stone Bulwark Totem/Earthgrab Totem when you're trying to survive or escape the enemy. I'm personally ecstatic about this change, but I know many shaman don't share my opinion on it.

Finally, there are a few nice PvP quality-of-life changes to be aware of. Spirit Walk will be decoupled from Feral Spirit and is a potent sprint/snare break on a 2-minute CD that you can use at any time. Greater Healing Wave is being removed from our arsenal, but Glyph of Healing Storm combined with Echo of the Elements and Healing Surge mean our self-healing will be much more powerful than it is on live. We'll also have better survivability options available in our first tier of talents, and Frozen Power is having its minimum range requirement removed. These are all nice things!

Glyphing to win

Another big 5.0.4 change is the removal of Prime Glyphs and a new focus on making glyphs more choice-based. Despite this, every enhancement shaman in 5.0.4 should be using Glyph of Flame Shock, as it allows more Earth Shocks to be cast in between Flame Shock refreshes, which is a slight DPS increase. This will change your priority slightly; you'll cast Flame Shock only every other Unleash Elements cast. Other useful glyphs that should always be useful for PvE will be Healing Storm (a dead DPSer does no DPS!) and Feral Spirit (see previous). Glyph of Spirit Walk will also be worthwhile to use and especially great on fights with target switches.

In ghost wolf modified by glyph of spectral wolf
Situationally, Glyph of Chain Lightning would be worthwhile on fights with add phases with five or more mobs. Fire Elemental Totem's glyph would be great on fights that need high burst in a short window of time, such as Spine of Deathwing. Glyph of Ghost Wolf and Glyph of Shamanistic Rage could both be useful depending on fight mechanics.

Hit rating, expertise rating, and math (a few of my favorite things)

One of the first things you're going to have to deal with when you log in is that your gear will be totally messed up. On live, I have just about 1,742 hit rating (17% spell hit) and 541 expertise (6.5% dodge removed). In 5.0.4, expertise will give spell hit as well, and you only need a combined 15%, but bosses' chances to dodge have been increased to 7.5%, and bosses' chance to be missed by melee special attacks is the same value. Together, they'll equal the 15% spell hit you need.

Meanwhile, expertise has shifted from needing 120 rating per 1% to needing only 103 for the same amount. Hit rating needs the same 103 rating per 1% chance to hit, regardless of spells or melee attacks. (Hit rating previously needed 121 hit for 1% melee hit and 103 hit rating for 1% spell hit.)

Ascended shaman attacking from far away
To make this less confusing, here it is stripped down: You will need a total of just under 1,540 hit/expertise rating to spell hit cap at level 85. Next, 770 of that will be expertise and 770 will be hit rating. If you're hit/expertise-capped now on live, you will suddenly find yourself with 744 excess points to be spent on secondary stats that actually increase damage rather than just allowing you to hit the boss. When I transferred Elamism over to the PTR, I reforged and removed hit from every item that had it on it and still ended up 200 points over the hit cap.

And the icing on the cake is this: Most classes in Cataclysm only needed 1,742 rating to cap their ability to hit a boss. Casters needed 1,742 to spell hit-cap, and melee types such as arms warriors who only needed 8% hit and 6.5% dodge reduction needed a combined 1,742 hit/expertise. Unholy death knights didn't even need to expertise cap; they only needed 961 hit rating. We needed to invest a whopping 2,284 secondary stat points into not missing on our attacks before we could even care about damage dealing secondaries.

In MoP, the system is designed so that every class needs the same 1,540 (1,537, technically) to cap, which means no one will have the unfair advantage of being able to devote 1,323 more points to damaging stats than we could.

So what about our damaging stats?

And this is a good thing -- because for once, we have three secondary stats that aren't totally awful. Mastery is still good but not the clear winner it has been since its introduction. Instead, our good friend haste rating -- our best stat in Wrath of the Lich King and worst in Cataclysm -- will be top dog for stats at level 85 in 5.0.4. There are a number of reasons for this that I won't get into in this article because it's too long already, but the recent buff to Flurry and its large uptime in best-in-slot gear is a big culprit. Never fear, though; mastery will get better as you level up to 90, though it won't necessarily be as good as haste.

Casting stormstrike on a target dummy
Having good Flurry uptime combines with the fact that our spells will crit for 100% more damage (rather than the 50% they did in Cataclysm) to make critical hit rating not terrible anymore. It's still not amazing and is our reforge fodder, but it's not awful. It's actually only slightly worse than mastery at level 85 -- but it gets outpaced by mastery and haste on the way to 90. Having three worthwhile stats is a positive to me. Unfortunately, this means that stats are no longer as easy as "hit to cap, expertise to cap, stack mastery." We're likely returning to the old days of simming every upgrade to make sure it is one.

The wrap-up

And there's a real positive for people who don't like relearning how to play: you'll be happy to know that our priority has been left mostly unchanged. For those playing along at home, this is it:
  • Searing Totem if not down or about to expire
  • Maelstrom Weapon 5 Lightning Bolt
  • Stormstrike
  • Lava Lash
  • Flame Shock if Unleash Flame is present (Note: you will never cast a non-buffed Flame Shock if you do it right.)
  • Unleash Elements
  • Earth Shock
  • Feral Spirits if everything is on cooldown
There's more that I haven't covered for the sake of brevity. Talent choices will be largely personal preference; the only exception to this are the tier 4 talents. Echo of the Elements is the clear winner there, but Elemental Mastery might have its day once we get Ascendance.

A lot of this is subject to change once level 90 talents become available, but for now it's a worthwhile crash course in enhancement at level 85 in the Mists of Pandaria pre-patch.

Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk: Enhancement every week. We've got enhancement-specific advice on 4 ways to increase your DPS, the ups and downs of enhancement in Dragon Soul, and gearing up for Raid Finder raids.

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