Melee combat? Barbaric. Healing? How pedestrian. Let the elements do the talking. Totem Talk: Elemental. Bought to you this week by Tyler Caraway; for being far more fabulous than Mike Sacco.
Greetings and salutations my elemental brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, your normal guide to taming the raging storms is feeling a bit under the weather himself at current, so instead you'll have to listen to my yammering. I promise to make it as painful and mind numbing as possible. Wait, scratch that and reverse it. This is totally going to rock!
For those of you whom are not familiar with me, and I doubt that many of you are, allow me to very quickly introduce myself. I am Tyler, but most folks around these parts simply call me Murmurs. No, not that annoying Thunderaan wanna-be in Shadow Labyrinth. The equally annoying balance druid that haunts the World of Warcraft Damage Dealing forums with tediously long posts no one bothers to read. I know that we had some issues during the Naxxramas portion of Wrath of the Lich King, but I promise to make it up to you. Just please don't hurl massive boulders of molten lava at me this time.
Elemental has been one of the weaker specs throughout this expansion. As much as it hurts to say that, it is undoubtedly true. Although elemental has carved a niche for itself of some form in higher end PvP, the PvE side of things haven't always been the most pleasant of experiences. There have been many issues plaguing these resilient shaman from tier gear being riddled to death with MP/5, controversy surrounding Lava Burst, Lightning Bolt, and Flame Shock, as well as the issues with Totem of Wrath. Fear not though, my stormy friends, for a brand new expansion is on the horizon, distant though it may be, and it has the potential to be one of truly cataclysmic proportions for the lightning bearers.
To get down into it, elemental currently suffers from a few base line flaws within their class mechanics and scaling that prevents them from really being the resident heralds of the storm. While it would be easy to go on about them until the fifth expansion is released, I'll be narrowing the focus down to a few key points that are really holding the spec back from reaching its optimal potential.
Issue 1: Totems, totems, totems!
Oh where to begin. Totems are a key function of the shaman class, yet they are also one of the most annoying and cumbersome at the best of times. The base issue of totems for elemental shaman really boils down to one thing: Totem of Wrath. When Wrath of the Lich King first came out, there were many people that saw the obvious flaws with a flat increase buff when a similar scaling buff existed. At the time, such concerns were mostly ignored due to the intended function that scaling would take. Back then, Blizzard never intended for gearing to reach the point where the disparity between Totem of Wrath and Demonic Pact would reach the catastrophic levels that it has reached today, thus rendering most of the complaints moot in their eyes. A flaw to be sure, but mistakes do happen.
First and foremost, the obvious should be addressed. Totem of Wrath and Demonic Pact need to be equalized. The initial rebalancing can come in two different ways. Either Totem of Wrath needs to be a scalar buff that is equalized against spell power differences between shaman and warlocks, or Demonic Pact needs to be changed to be a flat gain in spell power instead. Personally, I am a supporter of the latter over the former. Scaling buffs are always tricky to pin down exactly, and while the difference might be rendered insignificant, things that scale, well, scale. By allowing Demonic Pact, or even Totem of Wrath, to scale, it places it in a position to become the primer buff that is essential to all raids. 10% of spell power may only be a 400 increase now, and it kind of makes me laugh at how I say only 400, but who knows how high spell power will continue to grow in the next expansion and beyond. Will players have 6,000 spell power? 10,000? 10% may always be 10%, but the difference here matters. Flat stat adds simply work better and are so much easier to balance around.
That being said, I do have to support a warlock cry of foul in equalizing the gains of Totem of Wrath and Demonic Pact. Totem of Wrath has a much higher uptime than Demonic Pact does. While this may not be as much of an issue now due to the way in which gear has scaled, it will end up being a much bigger issue when gear 'resets' with the release of Cataclysm. To that end, the uptime of Demonic Pact needs to be adjusted. Either is must become a constant aura whenever a demon is active, or the buff that is applied by the demon needs to last significantly longer to ensure that the probability of it ever falling off is rendered as close to 0% as possible.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the totem issues of elemental shaman, however. No, the disparity between Totem of Wrath and Demonic Pact are but cookie crumbs in comparison to the real issue: the existence of DPS fire totems. Totem of Wrath may increase the shaman's DPS, but do not be fooled, it is nothing more than a mere buff akin to any other. So long as abilities such as Searing and Magma Totem exist, elemental's DPS must be balanced around their use. For a shaman stuck in a raid as the lone provider of the spell power buff, this spells disaster with a capital D. Simply removing the other totems is not an option though, so what to do? The solution is really quite simplistic. Turn Totem of Wrath into a mirror of Searing Totem. Actually, no, not a mirror, turn it into a better version.
Totem of Wrath needs to function exactly like an upgraded version of Searing Totem in order for elemental's DPS to ever really be balanced properly. To that end, however, it also needs to function better. Searing Totem, and eventually Totem of Wrath, should be made into the fire totem of choice for elemental shaman without question. Magma, with it's prohibitive range, simply does not cut it for anything beyond extensive AoE situations. In order to do this, several things need to happen.
First, Totem of Wrath/Searing Totem need to benefit from Lightning Mastery, reducing the totem's cast time by .5 seconds. Although not crucial in order to actually balance out of the DPS gain of the totems, it is important that they be increased beyond the capacity of Magma Totem in single target situations (which, if I remember correctly, currently only occurs above around 4,020 spell power.) Reducing the cast time of an ability is simply one of the best methods to increase the DPS of said ability without actually increasing the damage. Since damage potential is always of concern, though I highly doubt we'd ever see a situation in which Searing Totem becomes over powered in a PvP setting, this is a very excellent route to take.
Second, the coefficient of Totem of Wrath/Searing Totem needs to be drastically increased, while more than likely reducing the base damage. The goal here is one of scaling equalization. Abilities which rely more so on their base damage abilities yet lack strong stat scaling usually start out being either very strong to on par but end up being worthless. Right now, the coefficient is at 16.6% which is abysmally low. Buffing the coefficient to at least 50%, if not 60%, and reducing the base damage or damage modifiers such as Call of Flame , would result in a net-0 change in actual DPS while allowing the DPS potential to actually scale instead of peaking too early.