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Totem Talk: A deep discontent


Totem Talk is the column for shamans. Matthew Rossi currently has a level 70 resto shaman amidst the Horde and a level 70 enhancement shaman in the Alliance, and is working on leveling up an elemental shaman. This week did not exactly make him feel good about that decision. Seriously, you're nerfing elemental shamans again? Really? You're not kidding about this?

I really didn't see this coming. Perhaps I'm naive. Perhaps I simply don't keep track of these things in a sufficient manner. But if you'd told me that shamans were going to be nerfed again in patch 2.4, I honestly would have laughed. No way, I would have said confidently, there's no way they'll nerf shamans again. Clearly, I underestimated the capacity for nerfing inherent in the shaman class. Now, I've already heard all the responses... that it's a PvP nerf to keep elemental shamans from outputting crazy burst damage. Yes, I've heard tell that Kalgan promises buffs as well as nerfs in 2.4 and that's good. But the bare fact of it is, yet again, a specific shaman spec gets a direct DPS nerf. By themselves, these nerfs aren't any major deal. But when you see a series of them popping up like this, it's extremely disheartening and all the nebulous promises of incoming buffs (with no specifics or concrete details) don't counter the disappointment and in some cases outrage of seeing your talents and abilities become less useful.

Now, every class has been and will experience changes like this, it's the nature of attempting game balance between wildly disparate classes with varying abilities. There's no conspiracy here. Rob Pardo's daughter does not hate shamans (to my knowledge). And yes, I still enjoy the class myself and like playing a shaman. I think we bring a lot to raids and instances. But I also worry for the future of the class, especially when I see veteran players getting ever more frustrated, angry and fed up with it.

Is this going to be the end of elemental shamans in PvE or PvP? No. It's not a crippling set of changes, merely an inconvenient set. While the ultimate effect of this particular change will be minor, the effect of change after change reducing the spec's damage is ultimately one of discontent and alienation among the players of that spec. Elemental shamans grew in popularity specifically because of nerfs to enhancement combined with much better itemization for them in Burning Crusade, in my opinion, but to call any shaman spec popular is to be understood in the context of shamans as a singularly underplayed class. Both druids and paladins, the other two hybrids, are significantly more popular than shamans. Going over the WoW Web Stats of my guild's last Tempest Keep raid, I see that we brought two shamans out of 25 people, one elemental, one resto. We had four druids and five paladins.

It's not that shamans can't perform well in raids. They most certainly can. It's that there is a constant sense of uncertainty, a sense of 'what will they do to us this patch' that infects the shaman community and, no matter how positive you are, no matter what forums you avoid, no matter your love for the class you're aware of its presence. You're aware of how few shamans there are at 70 when your guild can recruit every class but shamans. As someone who, honestly, wants to promote shamans of all specs and see them in raids and PvP, I find this to be troublesome. It's hard to convince people to play and level a shaman when the old veterans are retiring their characters in disgust and there's no one to show new players how to learn what to do.

It's in the spirit of a real fan of the class and its unusual advantages to any group that I look at the process of balancing classes and how its affecting shamans, and more importantly, shaman players. Sometimes we forget, or choose not to consider, that the people who post irate screeds on the forums or who complain in guild, the guy making a comment on a website, that player isn't always just upset to inconvenience you. He or she has put real time and effort into his character, has chosen a spec, assembled the necessary gear to make that spec viable, worked out strategies in how to play it. only to have to reconsider it again and again and again. Since shamans increase the DPS of players around them, it can be especially easy for those players to forget or ignore the effects of these sorts of changes. After all, reducing Call of Thunder's critical chance doesn't reduce the benefits the mages and warlocks get from Totem of Wrath, so why should they care if the shaman herself takes a DPS hit? This is why at times I wish that these adjustments would be in a manner that affected the shaman's buffs to other classes, but I'm under no illusions: if that happened, guilds would probably just use less of the shaman than they already do.

In looking at the specific nature of the most recent adjustments to elemental shamans, it's hard for me to see any benefit to it from a PvE standpoint. Our elemental shaman, while an excellent player with a host of knowledge about the spec (which I've been brutally stealing in order to level my own) is rarely exceeding our casters or rogues. There's simply too much else she has to do, dropping totems, interrupting casts, throwing backup heals when needed, for her to dedicate all of her time or energy to purely DPSing. I don't know why it was necessary to reduce their crit chance. From a PvP standpoint, I've never run into an elemental shaman in Arenas, so I can't comment. In AV, I kill them fairly easily. They're harder to kill in WSG and AB, where they can put up a surprisingly hard fight. I still don't feel particularly overawed by their burst DPS (with the proper array of cooldowns and trinkets, yes, they can chain lightning an entire opposing group for significant damage. Is it overly effective? I'm not qualified to make that judgment. But I am interested in seeing what this does to elemental shamans in PvP, along with the set bonus reduction on their arena gear.

These aren't game breaking changes. But when shamans see their signature talents reduced in effectiveness (the 'change' to Earth Shield being a weird hybrid of a nerf and a buff) repeatedly, it's disheartening. When shamans are told changes will increase their DPS when in fact they decrease it, it's confusing. When every single patch seems to hold some kind of lurking dread for your class, it can become maddening. While we do have Sentry Totem to help ease the pain, it can seem like the class must be terribly broken to see so many adjustments on top of each other, and each one a reduction in some ability or another. (Ah, what would we at Totem Talk do without Sentry Totem jokes?) I personally hold out some hope that the promised buffs Kalgan speaks of are more than vapor, that we'll see issues of totem management addressed and that all three shaman specs get some love. But I guess I'm one of the stubborn ones. There's really not much that could be done to make me unhappy with my shamans.

I probably shouldn't have said that, huh? Ah well, I guess if I'm going to dare the universe to prove me wrong I can suck it up if it does.

Next week I hope to pick enough brains to get a working answer to how shamans in 2.4 will stack up.

Filed under: Shaman, Patches, Analysis / Opinion, PvP, Instances, Raiding, (Shaman) Totem Talk, Battlegrounds, Arena

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