Totem Talk is written by a shaman for shamans. What does that mean? Well, it means that Matthew Rossi is currently healing with a level 70 resto shammy, and is leveling up a 47 enhancement shaman as well. In fact, the only reason he stopped playing said shaman to write this column is out of his deep sense of commitment to you. Oh, and they shut down the servers for a couple of hours. But mostly deep commitment to you.
I hated my first shaman so much I left him at level 16 for five months.
It was hard to figure out for me. I was so used to warriors that I couldn't wrap my head around how to play a mana-using class, especially one that lacked all the abilities I'd grown so used to and dependent on. I tried a mage, a warlock, a hunter and a shaman, and none of them really worked for me. So I gave up on the shaman, and went and rolled up a new tauren warrior and leveled him up post haste so that I could join in on the fun reindeer games on my new horde server. (The server's not horde, but I was horde on it.) Every so often I would try another character... I made a druid and a priest but didn't get that far with them... but in the end, once I hit 60 and with the expansion looming, I decided to go back and give the shaman another try and I discovered the spec that changed everything for me.
Enhancement. Say it with me. Enhancement. To make things better. And boy, in my case, enhancement delivered all the better I could possibly have needed. A lot of folks make a typographical error and call them enchantment shamans, and in my case that's apt, because the first time I saw a windfury crit I was indeed enchanted. Rapt, even. One moment I was fighting a hyena outside of Gadgetzan and the next... I wasn't. It fell down. Fell down and went boom, even. I'd had that happen to me in battlegrounds, mind you, but I'd never really imagined that I could do it to others.
I admit now, trying to go elemental was a mistake for me. It's an excellent spec, but it's a caster spec. And I, my friends, am not a caster. I am melee in my heart, and so, I needed a melee spec to level. And with dual wielding, weapon enchants like windfury and rockbiter, and totems like grace of air and strength of earth, the enhancement shaman is a melee spec that makes other melee better to boot. How, I ask you, how can you go wrong with enhancement?
Well, you can pull threat for one thing.
My first run with the new Draenei shaman in Scarlet Monastery, I pulled threat constantly. This is after having already taken one shaman to 70, mind you, and him enhancement from 35 to 70 or so. Sure, he's resto now and heals most of the time, but I still remember enough that you'd think I'd be able to throttle back. Except that enhancement doesn't have a throttle. Your damage and threat come from weapon enhancements that either add damage (like rockbiter and flametongue) or proc, windfury being the chief example of a random proc. The effect of two extra attacks with extra attack power. Which can crit, and which you have no control over at all. Combine this with an overall shock-happy aspect that always takes me a couple of levels to get over and you have a lot of burst damage with no real means to slow it down.
Okay, fine, I could and did stop throwing so many shocks around, especially once I got stormstrike. And that did help a bit. But if my run in Maraudon recently taught me anything, it's that I can still pull aggro without much effort, just by getting lucky a couple of times with WF.
Another downside to a heavy enhancement spec is mana efficiency. Specifically, the lack of it. Dropping all four totems will take you down a significant fraction of your mana bar, especially if you're geared for agility and attack power: it can be hard to find int, agi, and AP on gear as you level, especially if you also make stamina a priority. Around level 40 you can hit Scarlet Monastery and grab a lot of good mail for an enhancement shammy, mail with strength, stamina and crit on it, but it's not really shaman mail at all, it's good blues for a warrior or paladin who hasn't quite graduated to plate yet. As a result, it's not really designed to help your mana pool very much. And as you head into the late 40's/early 50's, you'll be torn between AP, crit and mana on your gear. The end result of all this is that you will often find yourself stopping to drink after a pull or two (if you can get lucky and arrange to fight on the same spot for the duration of your totems, anyway). Mana is the limiter on shaman melee dps, and mana is what makes it so bursty... a few stormstrikes and earth shocks and you're almost out of gas, while rogues and warriors are just getting started. The lesson here is don't neglect your mana pool and it is a lesson I myself forget to keep to heart often.
With these caveats in mind, I still recommend enhancement as a leveling build. I have a great time playing my new shaman just as I did playing my first. Now, I do enjoy healing, and the next Totem Talk is going to be dedicated to resto and healing in five mans and beyond (including how hard it can be to do sustained MT healing on a boss fight without mana spring or mana tide) but I don't really find a restoration spec to be tremendous fun to level with. You cannot heal a mob to death, after all. Your mileage may vary, and that's cool, I don't pretend that my preferences are universal.
To try and help the lowbie shaman levelling up, here are some good pieces of gear to look for in the 20's. First off there's the Troll's Bane Leggings, a BoE item you can equip at level 25. They have nice agility, stamina and a little spirit (which, admittedly, is not all that great for shamans) and since they're BoE you won't have to fight Hunters, Rogues and Druids for them. At level 27 you can take the quest Warsong Supplies (if you're horde) and get the Warsong Boots, another great item you won't have to fight anyone over. To be fair to our alliance friends, here's an item only they can get, the Tunic of Westfall from the Deadmines questline The Defias Brotherhood. You can get that one even before level 20 and it'll last you a while.
I'd love to go more in depth here, and I'm sure I'll come back to enhancement... I'd love to talk more about raiding as an enhancement shaman, for example, and I always want to talk about running Scarlet Monastery over and over and over and over and over again until I dreaded the very idea of killing Herod again knowing he would drop Ravager for the ten billionth time instead of the pants. But Restoration and Elemental both deserve some love from this column before I come back to it, so expect those in the next few weeks. I promise, we'll start beating on things around here again soon.