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Totem Talk: What you will and will not be

Totem Talk, the column for shamans, was hit right between the eyes with news from the Worldwide this weekend. Matthew Rossi, our intrepid columnist, tries to make sense of it all this week.

Okay, I know we're behind on the Kara gear articles, but this weekend's news from the Worldwide Invitational was too much for me to ignore. Both for all the awesome news for shamans and for what it all doesn't mean. (And yes, I had to steal Mike's image from the roundup post... I even went out and bought that statue I like it so much.) Since we know the Beta Opt-In is live and the Wrath beta can't be far away, I thought we should spend some time discussing what we just found out.

I admit that part of the reason for wanting to discuss this in detail is that I am stoked about it. Some of you readers are, in fact, very good for providing a bucket of cold water in the form of reality checking, and I expect you to do me that service now. But maybe we're all excited, which would be awesome, for shamans to once all be excited.

I know Hex is the greatness, but what it isn't is real CC for five man instances. It's a panic button, like so many other shaman abilities can be, not a long-term solution. To use hex as CC in an instance in the manner of Polymorph, you'd have to renew it every ten seconds. You're taking yourself out of DPSing entirely if you intend to use it that way, basically. Make no mistake, it's a great ability and great utility for the class, but it's more akin to Cyclone than Sap or Poly.

What, you may well be turning to me to ask, is it good for then if it's not going to be good for CCing in instances?

For starters, it's a useful means to escape, whether you have a rogue beating on your head or a mob coming to kill you for healing the tank. It will have crossover PvP and PvE utility without being overly powerful in either, which is a nice balance to achieve. An ability that slows a mob to a crawl and keeps it from attacking me until the tank can get it back seems absolutely perfect for me as a resto shaman, or as an elemental pulling aggro all the time, and even enhancement shamans can make use of it on a runner who is about to aggro another pack. I wish we had this spell now, it would those drum beating patrols in ZA so much easier.

You won't be putting mages out of work with this, so if that's what you were hoping for, I'm sorry. If, however, you were one of the myriad of shamans complaining that we had no real anti-cc or cc for PvP, this looks to be going a long ways towards helping you. Since all CC lasts 10 seconds in PvP the short duration won't be an issue, and the cast time, while making it a little harder to get it off while being pureed, isn't so long that it should be impossible.

If Hex was all that was discussed at the conference, it would be a nice blurb but not all that groundbreaking. (Especially if Michael's theory about the spell is borne out.) However, it was far from all we were getting to hear about. Totems are getting two very important tweaks: the developers mentioned 'totem spam' as an issue they were looking at and discussed the consolidation of Strength of Earth and Grace of Air totem into one. While this is great news (SoE is almost always the earth totem I drop, excluding the occasional use of Stoneskin for the paladin tanking trash waves in Hyjal) I do find myself wondering how they're going to do this. Is it simply going to be a new totem with the effects of both? Or will there be a whole new kind of totem taking up that 'fifth totem' role hinted at in sources such as the Warcraft novel Lord of the Clans? I have no idea, but either would be welcome in my mind, and I can't imagine the physical DPS complaining at the notion of having SoE, GoA and windfury weapon at the same time.

An additional bit of welcome news was that windfury totem would now work for druids and in addition to other weapon buffs such as sharpening or weightstones or rogue poisons. Finally, the totem announcement that has shamans I know simultaenously overjoyed and worried, totems will now work raid-wide. The cynic in me has to think this is in some way a reaction to the concept of 'shaman stacking' that a lot of endgame guilds engage in, trying to have four or five shamans so that every group gets totem buffs and/or access to heroism/bloodlust. But it seems to me that since the bloodlust/heroism buffs aren't going raid wide, all this change would mean is that a raid group that stacked shamans would have the advantage of all of the stacked shamans' totems at once, rather than having those totems broken up by group. With totem ranges still being limited and there being only so many buffs that actually benefit specific classes (I'm not seeing a lot of warlocks and shadow priests crying out for windfury totem) I don't know that I can really see this change affecting how many shamans you bring to a group. It will mostly mean that you don't have to have all the melee in a group with one enhancement shaman for them to get the effect of the totems, or all the casters in with the elemental, making for less ridiculous busywork. Now your healers will get the benefit of wrath of air and mana spring and even totem of wrath while not being deprived of healing stream, and with the melee still getting their windfury. Tremor Totem will hit everyone with one shaman dropping it, not just the four other people in his group.

A welcome change but not one I see really dealing with the idea of shaman stacking. If Blizzard actually thinks it's a problem, and I have no idea if they do or not (clearly I don't, but I know people who complain bitterly about it) then they'll have to do something else if they want to cut back on it. By itself the totem changes won't make people want less shamans, at least not in my opinion.
The last change mentioned that I think we need to discuss is the removal of the rockbiter weapon imbue and its replacement, the earthliving weapon ability. Part of me, the part who remembers old rockbiter, back when it was a useful offtanking imbue, is sad about it. The part of me who has to heal instances as a resto shaman is clubbing that part of me to death (ironically enough he may have rockbiter on his weapon) and screaming "Plus healing imbues! Plus spell damage imbues! A reliable snare! Shut the heck up about rockbiter, I'd sell you to nomadic slavers for spell damage and plus healing!" So clearly I'm torn. Earthliving weapon sounds like sixteen kinds of awesome, especially when you'll be able to combine it with whatever kind of wizard or mana oils the expansion brings us. I'm sure elementals are drooling at the idea of flametongue, which is already their favorite weapon imbue, now adding spell power and also stacking with weapon oils. The utility of this change could be a lot more powerful than it seems at first glance, when combined with the changes that allow weapon enhancements to go alongside the former weapon imbues. (I believe it was stated at the invitational that these abilities are now self-buffs instead of weapon buffs. If I'm wrong I'm sure someone will correct me.)

None of these changes are massively powerful, none will put anyone out of work in favor of shamans or, in my opinion, cost any shamans a raid slot. But they improve shaman flexibility and raid benefit, so I'm overall pleased with what I'm seeing. And so I now leave it up to you to decide if you agree or want me to be hit by a truck.

Next week, cloth and leather, I promise.

Filed under: Shaman, Analysis / Opinion, PvP, Instances, Expansions, Raiding, (Shaman) Totem Talk, Wrath of the Lich King

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