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Totem Talk: Too versatile?

Totem Talk is the column for shamans. This week, Matthew Rossi examines the great flexibility of the shaman class and whether it causes difficulty for the design and play of the average shaman. He's also trying desperately to come up with a joke for the header paragraph but aside from a 'It's over 9000' reference, he's got nothing. But hey, at least it's being posted on the right day this week.

This week, on our way into Hyjal after having given Vashj her dirt nap, I noticed our guild's shamans doing some awesome work for us kiting striders, healing through massive DoT's, and putting out incredible damage on naga's.One of the top DPS on our Vashj kill was an enhancement shaman. An elemental shaman used frost shock to kite the striders and did very well holding aggro. All in all, without our shamans, we wouldn't have gotten her down, and wouldn't have been able to go kick Winterchill and Anetheron in the groins. I've talked before about how important the shaman is for raiding and this week I've really seen it in action. Grounding totems to eat damaging stuns before Vashj can apply them to me, windfury totem to boost our melee (one of our rogues gets very cranky if he has to raid without the enhancement shaman in his group), a variety of boosts to our healing and ranged DPS... shamans bring a huge toolkit to dungeons and raids.

In fact, I'm starting to wonder if the problem is that very versatility. Sometimes, it's as if people just don't know what to ask a shaman to do for them. Groups even seem to skip taking a shaman over another class because they don't understand that yes, a shaman specced for it main heal your Slabs run, or does have the ability to dps effectively. For that matter, at times they don't even care if the shaman can do the job or not: they just want someone who can crowd control.
We've discussed mistakes people have about the shaman class before. One thing that's not mistaken is that there are specific things that shamans cannot do. They cannot cc a mob. No seduce, no banish, no sheep, no sap, no cyclone, not even a stun. This may or may not change in the future... my crystal ball's been broken ever since I used it to predict that World of Warcraft would be a solid presence in the MMO field, solidly second place behind Ultima Online.. but for now it is the reality of the game. Are shaman broken? I don't think so. I think players have long memories and are slow to change, and when changes in gameplay happen they tend to trickle down from top raiding guilds (who are always looking for an edge to kill a new boss) to average raids, to smaller guilds in the ten mans, and finally into the community at large. This isn't due so much to any supposed superiority of raiders over non raiders but rather to the simple fact that the raiders are beating their heads against the metaphorical brick walls of new content.

This means that from a top down view, shamans are awesome and there's nothing to complain about, if you take 25 man raiding as the 'top'. Two problem enter into this, however: what happens when you paradigm shift from raiding to PvP or 5 man instances?

Much of a shaman's versatility comes from the multiplicative effect they have on large groups. In a raid, where other classes will already handle the CC, shamans are free to provide DPS and healing and totems to buff performance of other classes. Much like Shadow Priests, part of the reason you want to bring a shaman is how good she makes you. With three shamans, you can tune groups to take advantage of their abilities (the melee group, caster group and possibly a healing group - we often stick our hunters in with a shaman and have him or her GoA them up) and can even rotate shamans into a DPS group to provide multiple bursts of Bloodlust or Herosim.

You can't do any of this in an Arena match or a five man instance PuG. You have five people at most, as few as two or three depending on bracket. Very rarely will you have two shamans to take advantage of two air totems, and if you do, you have even less options for CC. And crowd control can tip the balance of a PvP match in seconds: take the healer out of the equation with a stun and burn down the DPS, for one example. Meanwhile, most five man instance runs depend on either mass AoE tanking (which can be very rough on an undergeared healer) or meticulous CC. It's not uncommon for a PuG instance run to bring up to three possible CC's in order to reduce the amount of trash they have to deal with on a pull. It's not just that these players are often unaware of how awesome shaman totems can be... even Horde side, you can often find groups that just have no idea what shamans are and what shamans can do... but when they're trying to ensure that they can keep three of the six mobs in a pull locked down, they often are willing to forgo totem buffs.

Shamans have found ways to produce results in competitive PvP, of course. One such way is the elemental shaman strategy which calls for an instant cast, guaranteed critical chain lightning burst in the face of the entire opposing party, also known as the gib everyone strategy. In effect, it's the entire opposite of focus fire. Properly geared enhancement shamans can still deal out impressive one on one damage and with resilience become more resistant to crits and dots, although this level of resistance can be difficult to come by. Restoration is still a strong healing spec and the recent changes to abilities like Earth Shield don't seem to have made them less so... but shamans are hardly dominating arenas, either. In my own experience with shaman PvP I've come to believe that shamans are stronger in battlegrounds than arenas until their gear starts to hit the Season 2 or better level, which is no surprise, since battlegrounds tend to have more people to buff and less chance to pick out one guy and turn him or her to paste. Unless he or she is carrying a flag. Then yeah, paste time.

The issue here is, you don't want to risk losing that enormous variability that makes shamans so useful for large scale content. One of the hallmarks of the shaman class is their versatility and group utility, their ability to enhance a group for whatever role that group is intended to play. Whether it's a 10 man raid with a shaman who can choose the proper totem for spell dampening, poison or disease removal, or DPS increase or a 25 man with its tailored groups, shamans are incredibly strong and useful for these aspects of play and I'd hate to see them watered down. Frankly, I'd say it's not even necessary. Five man groups will come to learn that shaman totems provide some of the best buffs in the game, and hopefully DPS shamans will make inroads in PuG's, where a lot of the necessary tuning of a character to be raid ready takes place.

I'm not blind to the difficulties shamans can have in PvP, especially arena. Frankly, after long thinking about it, and getting my head turned into jelly by a blood elf ret paladin with a whopping great mace on a few occasions, I'd have to say that I believe shamans need not a CC, but a limited form of anti CC that gives them time either to close the gap (for enhancement shamans) or get the heck out of Dodge rather than forcing them to stand still and be unable to hit anyone while four people turn them into vegemite. To a degree the recent changes to shamans seem to be heading in that direction, at least to a limited extent. I suppose only time can tell us whether that continues.

So in the end, shamans are of course awesome and hopefully will remain so, and the issue that makes life hard for them in smaller groups will hopefully ease with the coming expansion. From my perspective, as it stands shamans are in excellent shape in PvE, especially in raiding, and I want to see them remain so, I just also want to see barriers that keep them from achieving their full potential in PvP removed and more new shamans finding their way into five man instances.

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

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