2009 has been a year of almost continuous changes for shamans. It seems that not a patch has gone by without some changes to the class, some major, some not so severe. The class has seen mysterious DPS shortfalls, a minor controversy about health in PvP that then carried over into PvE content with the high levels of AoE damage in Ulduar with patch 3.1. Flametongue Weapon saw changes to prevent enhancement shamans from using caster weapons. Resto got a fairly substantial review and some significant tweaks. Elemental also saw some talents redesigned.
While all of this was going on, shamans also saw some controversy about itemization, gear scaling and having to share caster mail between two specs that value different stats, as well as the constant battle with holy paladins to keep their grubby, grasping mitts off of our mail. Yeah, we know you don't want that MP5 plate, but since you're the only ones who can possibly get anything out of it, go away and leave our precious alone. (Cue the pages of discussion on why it's perfectly acceptable for holy paladins to take caster mail and explanations in detail of why I'm an inhuman monster who drowns fish. Yes, fish, That's how evil I am.)
Now that we've got the pleasantries out of the way (remind me to tell you the story of the year my mom beat Santa Claus up in front of the extended family) we move on to shamans in 2009.
Class Interactions/Changes to Buff Stacking
From the discussion of how Totem of Wrath compares to the Warlock version to the murmurs about the 'mystery DPS leak' being related to our DoT's not working properly or being affected by another class being nerfed, shamans and the complexity of their various totem buffs were possibly the single class most affected by the change to how buffs work in Wrath of the Lich King. As a shaman, you now have to pay more attention to the make up of your party or raid than ever before to make sure you're not dropping a totem that duplicates a buff already present (and after a while, you can end up simply running out of totems you can drop without duplicating someone's efforts) - as an example, you're probably going to drop Totem of Wrath in your raid (as an elemental shaman) even if you have a Ret Paladin providing the same debuff to the boss with Heart of the Crusader, or a demo lock surpassing the spellpower benefit of the totem with his pet, depending on the situation. (You may well drop a Magma Totem and spam glyphed Improved Fire Nova on a big trash pull, of course. You can hit that bad boy six times before the totem despawns, not that I've been doing this and making tanks cry or anything.)
I'd definitely put the changes to how buffs stack down as a big change to shamans in this expansion so far, and frankly, all too often the shaman version of a buff or debuff loses out to some other class's. I get that our totems stand in one place and provide their buffs as an aura, meaning that if the other class' buff wasn't superior our totems would just overwrite them and we'd have to rebuff people who were going to leave the totem's area, but there has to be a way around this that favors the shaman once in a while.
Dual Talent Specialization
Seriously this should be in just about any class' list of "Big Things of 2009". I've seen Elemental/Resto, Enhancement/Elemental, Elemental/Elemental (PvP/PvE), Resto/Resto (both PvE specs, just focused differently)... Dual Talent Specialization gives players the chance to customize and channel their characters to succeed at an aspect of the game without immediately locking themselves out of other aspects. Healers want to grind? Boom, here's your DPS grinding spec. DPS want to help out the raid when a bit of extra healing is needed? You can have a healing spec ready to go. Want to PvP as elemental but still enjoy raiding as enhance? We have you covered.
Totem Bar Interface
Honestly, this was an idea that took so long to come to fruition (how many of us had various totem addons to try and automate the process out a little before patch 3.2) and was such a nice change it really deserves to be celebrated. The Call of the Elements, Call of the Ancestors and Call of the Spirits spells allowing shamans to pre-select four totems and drop them as a group is simple and made a process that was irritating (run after the group, drop totems one at a time wasting globals) and could even be deleterious (a resto shaman trying to get the totems down in between casting healing spells, for instance) into something easy to use. You can even change the call spells on the fly via a very easy to use tab system, so you don't have to keep dropping Strength of Earth in your Call of the Ancestors set if you have a DK in the group without having to use an entirely different Call if you don't want to. (I like Call of the Spirits to be my PvP set of totems.)
Patch 3.1 and 3.2 both redesign shamans
Frozen Power was introduced to help enhancement out in PvP, our poison and disease cleansing spells and totems were rolled into one, Spirit Weapons, Improved Stormstrike, Chain Heal, Shamanistic Rage, Elemental Mastery, Lightning Overload... the list of talents and abilities that saw redesign in one of these two patches is pretty significant. Booming Echoes was introduced for elemental (Shamanism, an even more significant talent for elemental scaling, was actually added in 3.0.8). Even things like base health were adjusted this year. It's really safe to say that shamans have been one of, if not the, most highly adjusted and redesigned classes of this expansion. (Patch 3.3 continued this trend with the introduction of Fire Nova, or as I like to call it, "Lookit me, I'm Arthur Brown! I'm sorry, Mister Tank.")
It's been a really astonishing year of changes and re-changes for shamans. Between itemization and scaling issues, buff controversies, and nigh-continuous redesigns, it's a wonder we can still recognize the class, but shamans keep on dropping totems. (Even if those totems look really different now.) Here's to another year of dropping sticks in the ground and setting everything on fire, or healing everything. Whichever you prefer.
Check out more strategies, tips and leveling guides for Shamans in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column: Totem Talk.