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Totem Talk: Elemental shaman changes for patch 4.0.1

Get some Fulmination with your Lightning Bolts! Sort the shocks from the flames with Totem Talk: Elemental, brought to you by Sarah Nichol, otherwise known as Pewter. She can also be seen pottering around TotemSpot, trailing a pet dalek behind her.

My name is Sarah, and I have a problem. The diagnosis is farsightedness, a result of focusing on Cataclysm to the exclusion of all else. The quests, the new casting priorities, the shiny surroundings, and the fact that I get to be a dwarf instead of a draenei ... So much to think over, so much to explore! There is nothing cuter that a dwarf shaman, except maybe those new armadillos. Where was I, again?

Now, patch 4.0.1 is on the PTR, dragging in new talent trees and new hit numbers to consider and the removal of Sentry Totem. Time to start paying attention. We must not let the sacrifice of Sentry Totem be in vain! There should be no expectations of balance at this point, as all these new level 80 shiny things are developed with level 85 in mind. There are still questions pending on some of the details, so whether our flames are bright or storm clouds are on the horizon for elemental is up for debate. From hit caps to casting priorities, we've got a bit to get through in my inaugural Totem Talk, so sit tight, make sure you know where your towel is and everything will be just fine. I hope.

Now, where to start? Oh, yes. Hit.

Get your hit checked


The changes to hit and spirit are happening as part of the announced streamlining of stats and will remove the need for players to change gear based on raid and group composition. Blizzard wants us to change our gearing, glyphing and spellcasting based on the fight, not the team, and this is a positive change. As a result, elemental shaman have lost the 3% base hit from Elemental Precision, and on top of that we will no longer get 3 percent from shadow priest or balance druid party members. This makes a total 6 percent extra hit to find from gear. The hit cap in patch 4.0.1 remains at 17 percent, but as of 4.0.1, the amount we need from gear has increased.

So to summarize, your shaman will need 17 percent hit from gear at level 80 after Patch 4.0.1, 16 percent hit if you play a draenei. Lucky space goats! There is 1 percent of spell hit per 26.23 hit rating at level 80, so draenei shaman will get away with 420 hit for the purpose of killing raid bosses and only 132 hit for heroics. For non-draenei, the the hit cap is 446 hit for raids and 158 hit for instancing.

Playing with those free talent points

The much-talked-about 31-point talent trees are upon us. At level 80, there are 36 points to spend, 31 of which must be in the elemental tree. The first 23 points in elemental are fairly straightforward. Grab all the tasty tier 5 talents such as Fulmination, Totemic Wrath and Elemental Mastery. I didn't bother with Convection because the mana regeneration from Rolling Thunder gives us nearly endless mana at level 80. Incoming nerf? Perhaps.

The choices for points 24 and 25 are a little more interesting and depend on whether you are likely to miss the root effect of our old Storm, Earth and Fire talent. I find the added root effect on Earth Bind invaluable on various rights, but you can also go for another point in Acuity or pick up Reverberation. At this point in time, it's very much down to personal preference, with 3/3 Acuity as my preference. I dropped my 25th point in Earth's Grasp because I can, but these two points are flexible. Figure out what works for you, the fights you attempt and the composition of the group you raid with.

The damage increase from Elemental Weapons and Improved Shields is more valuable than most other talents available to us at this time, so our 36-point build includes those. Sadly, this means Ancestral Swiftness is out of our reach until Cataclysm hits for real.

Such shocking priorities

Now we get to the real meat of the patch. Chain Lightning is dead. Single-target casting priorities now consist of managing a new Lava Burst mechanic called Lava Surge, judging the best moment to cast a fulminant Earth Shock, and mixing it up with a healthy dose of Lighting Bolt spam and Feedback-boosted Elemental Mastery. Chain Lightning is still relevant (and very fun) for small and large groups, but staying on top of Lava Surge and Fulmination are should garner greater rewards, without another short cooldown to add to the mix. Shaman in 10-man raids get to play with totems now that Totemic Wrath is live, so keeping Searing Totem active is about keeping the buff active, as well as the ongoing damage.

Lava Surge gives a 10%/20% chance for our Lava Burst cooldown to reset on Flame Shock ticks, and to maximize DPS, Lava Burst needs to be given the highest priority. Where previous spell priorities focused on minimizing the dead space between fixed casts of Lava Burst, we get a more dynamic priority system made flexible by the new nature damage mechanics. Now, Rolling Thunder is where it gets fun. Every time you deal damage with Lightning Bolt or Chain Lightning, you have a 60 percent chance to generate a new Lightning Shield charge, up to a maximum of nine. Fulmination discharges those stacks alongside any Earth Shock, but as a separate component (so you won't see a supercharged Earth Shock on your Skada window.)

Danger! High Voltage: Managing Fulmination

There are two components that influence when to cast a fulminant Earth Shock:
  • Damage per cast time The cast has to be worth more than a Lightning Bolt in the same global cooldown to make it worth casting at all; currently, this margin is set at six charges or greater. (In other words, Fulmination needs to consume at least three surplus charges, but our interface shows the total number as six.) This could change, of course, so you can also wait until seven charges (or four surplus charges) are available. Casting at six, seven or eight charges makes no difference, because you'll still gain potential charges from your next Lightning Bolt casts anyway. This lends us a flexibility that I have really enjoyed both on PTR and beta.
  • Wasting charges Unless you have a Lava Burst ready to cast, then a nine-charge Earth Shock has very high priority. This is because any potential charges from casting Lightning Bolts (or Chain Lightning) are wasted, since Lightning Shield will not stack beyond nine charges. So if you have a nine-charge shield up, you should not be casting anything that has a chance to proc additional charges until you've discharged the Fulmination.
If that was all a bit sea-green Bambi for you, let's break it down:
  • Priority:
    • Flame Shock (if you are just about to cast Lava Burst, but Flame Shock will drop mid-cast)
    • Lava Burst
    • Searing Totem refresh
    • Flame Shock refresh
    • Earth Shock (nine charges)
    • Earth Shock (six to eight charges) or Lightning Bolt
    • Lightning Bolt
  • Use Elemental Mastery as often as possible.
  • Keep Lightning Shield up.
  • Earth Shock is now our on-the-move shock spell.
The above is a priority, not a rotation, and doesn't factor in the Unleash Elements ability we will get in Cataclysm. For group packs, Chain Lightning is still fantastic damage. I just like the animation; I'd miss it if I didn't get to cast it occasionally. Each jump of Chain Lightning has its own 60 percent chance to increase Lightning Shield charges, and we finally get our grubby mail mitts on Earthquake. Combined with the Glyph of Chain Lightning, our AoE is looking healthy and happy. Begone, Magma Totem!

Glyphs (or "Yay, I have bag slots free!")

Our choices for Prime Glyphs are:
Prime Glyphs represent a straight-up, no-frills DPS increase, and my recommended combination is Flame Shock, Lava Burst and Lightning Bolt. Flame Shock benefits innately from both haste and crit, and in combination with our current tier bonus, this means Flame Shock can be kept rolling on the target for a very long time. Lightning Bolt continues to be the largest portion of our DPS, and everyone likes a big Lava Burst.

For Major Glyphs, we have:
These are intriguing choices and are more likely to be swapped around based on the encounter you're facing or the solo activity you are doing. Lightning Shield may turn out to be not-so-necessary for raiding, but it is delightful for soloing and questing, allowing you to fire and forget at the beginning of your play sessions, and I would definitely pick it up as soon as you can. My picks are the first three on the list, but the primary function of a major glyph is utility, so check out the full list.

A matter of wardrobe

Mail Specialization is a 5 percent intellect increase for the elemental department of the Earthen Ring, so the better your gear, the more you get out of it. I may not be running around in i277 gear, but the spellpower boost from equipping an all-mail set was significant enough to discount the haste lost by putting my Leggings of Woven Death in the sharding pile. Yes, I am quietly gleeful that my shaman gets to match completely for a short time before Cataclysm goes live. I never thought I would be happy about wearing 5/5 tier 10. Ever. You live and learn.

As for getting to that hit cap I mentioned, MP5 gear will be converted into spirit gear, with two points of spirit for every one of MP5, and Elemental Precision gives us one hit rating for every point of spirit. Spirit enchants and Brilliant Spellthread can be used along with gems to make our gear puzzle easier. Gear you currently have with MP5 (such as Belt of the Blood Nova) will now be an acceptable upgrade if you are scrounging for hit when the patch hits. We also continue to benefit from hit on items we share with other caster DPS, including weapons, trinkets, rings and necklaces, so don't discount those items when building your post-4.0.1 outfit.

Haste and crit remain unchanged, but spellpower is now derived from intellect, and your gear will have changed to reflect that. I felt wonky, stat-wise, but this is not a problem! Reforging is now available, allowing you to convert all that hit into spirit or mastery. Spirit will be our preferred source of hit in Cataclysm, as it will provide out-of-combat regen in downtime, and mastery is an amazing stat and worth playing around with. I bumped mine up to 27 percent by converting spare hit, spirit and the occasional bit of crit.

Now, moving on to the relic. All relics are being streamlined into a stat stick, and this is a good change in the long term, as far as I'm concerned. It's easier to balance and another place to put a gem slot. However, in the short term, the loss of 186 haste is something to keep in mind when you start practicing your rotation. Another consequence of this is that haste remains more valuable than crit, even at 1,200+ haste levels, making Charred Twilight Scale and Dislodged Foreign Object an ideal best-in-slot trinket pairing for a larger number of shaman.

And accessories?

Take your pick from the following, depending on which hit cap you're going for:

I'm inclined to go with traditional gemming for now -- piling on the Brilliant Cardinal Ruby in most sockets and a couple of purple gem as required in order to activate Chaotic Skyflare Diamond. If you are not decked out in i277 gear, it might be worth slapping some Reckless Ametrines into yellow sockets, to help plug the haste gap left by the change to our relic. Spirit cuts are preferred over pure hit, if you do need to top up your hit rating with a gem or two.

What to remember
All in all, I find the new rotation fun, and playing this new puzzle with gear is a refreshing change from the same old, same old. While we still have a little flamboyant fire in our spell priority, we now also have a variety of lightning-based spells, bringing us closer to our original identity as a class. I think it is pretty good that Blizzard have managed to do this despite all the worries about consolidation and sharing of buffs. Elemental shaman have always been derided as having a casting system, but with tier 10 and the gradual tweaks that have gone on during Wrath, I've seen an increase in depth and interest. In 4.0.1, as in Cataclysm, our casting priority is much more interesting, our gearing issues should be improved, and we no longer need to carry a pet warlock or a shadow priest in our pockets to be the best we can be.

Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk. Whether it's Sarah Nichol's elemental edition, Joe Perez's coverage of restoration or Rich Maloy's enhancement edition, WoW Insider's shaman experts have you covered.

Filed under: Shaman, (Shaman) Totem Talk

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