Basic spell priority
Cataclysm has brought about some great changes to our spellcasting. Combat consists of maintaining Flame Shock on the target, keeping Lava Burst on cooldown, which now has a chance to reset due to the Lava Surge talent, and casting Lightning Bolt as filler.
Due to the talent Rolling Thunder, each Lightning Bolt has a 60 percent chance to create a surplus charge of Lightning Shield on yourself, to a maximum of 9 charges of LS. The talent Fulmination allows you to discharge any excess charges (any above the basic 3) in the form of damage to your target when you cast Earth Shock. If you have 4 Lightning Shield charges up, casting Earth Shock will deal damage to the enemy to the tune of Earth Shock plus 1 Lighting Shield charge. If you have a maximum of 9 LS charges on your character, then casting Earth Shock will discharge 6 charges worth of damage to your target and reduce the number of LS charges down to 3.
The best possible outcome is to use Earth Shock whenever you have enough Lightning Shield charges to ensure that it is worth more than a Lightning Bolt. Currently, at level 85, I suggest 7 charges as the safest number, because Rolling Thunder can also proc from Elemental Overloads of your Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning casts, so waiting until a full stack can result in wasted Rolling Thunder procs much more easily than prior to patch 4.0.6.
So to summarize, not including cooldowns, totems, shields or weapon imbues (which should all have 100 percent uptime), your casting priority on single targets is:
- Keep Flame Shock uptime at 100 percent.
- Lava Burst/Lava Surge Proc
- 7+ LS charge Earth Shock
- Lightning Bolt
Any Lightning Bolts cast at 9 charges will waste potential Lightning Shield charges, and Blizzard has built in a graphical spell alert to help you avoid such wastage.
Totems, shields and imbues
Make sure your weapon is imbued with Flametongue Weapon! This is a straight-up spell damage boost and should be kept up at all times. I tend to refresh it before I enter a boss fight of any kind just so I don't have to worry about it dropping off during combat. Lightning Shield is now the shield of choice, and there is a major glyph to ensure that we don't lose the base charges (and therefore don't lose RT procs).
At for totems, our No. 1 priority is to keep a fire totem active, preferably Searing Totem or Fire Elemental Totem. The 10 percent spell damage buff is one of the most powerful available to players, and the DPS from the totem represents a substantial amount of personal DPS. No longer do we have to chose between the buff and our fun totems. I've had to stick a Post-it note up to remind me to start using Fire Elemental on bosses again, after a stint in the wilds of leveling. Searing Totem has an improved AI, as it should aim for whichever mob you have placed your Flame Shock on. The choice of other totems will depend on what buffs other classes are bringing to the group, but Wrath of Air Totem remains a great choice if you're unsure.
Now, a mainstay of the Wrath rotation was Chain Lightning. Some players loved including it in single-target DPS; some hated the mana drain. Currently, Chain Lighting is not a viable part of a single target rotation. Previously, its value lay in fast cast time that helped to remove the dead space between Lightning Bolt and Lava burst. In Cataclysm, CL regains its place as a tremendous ranged cleave for multiple targets. It's best used for smaller packs of powerful mobs, for which traditional AoE spells just take too long to kill everything. Elemental Overload often results in an amazing amount of damage, all threat free of course, and each "jump" has the potential to proc a Lightning Shield charge! Just don't forget about any CCed targets.
Earthquake is something we've been waiting a long time for: a channelled, ranged AoE spell, added in patch 4.0.1. Gone are the days of needing to run into range to drop a Magma Totem and hitting Fire Nova and Chain Lightning. That method of AoEing is largely defunct for elemental shaman, although some canny positioning will allow you to drop a Magma Totem and use Earthquake at the same time for maximum effect. Stand at max range, position over your target and grin as your enemies fall to their knees in shock. This spell is best used for larger packs of weaker adds, and beware threat levels. Be kind to your tanks.
What about Unleash Elements and Spiritwalker's Grace?
Shaman have an amazing amount of utility spells, but two new spells finally became available to us on the advent of Cataclysm. At level 81, all shaman are able to train Unleash Elements. For elemental shaman, with Flametongue Weapon, UE gives a small amount of initial damage and then boosts the damage of your next fire spell by 20 percent. Now, when I initially tried out this spell, it seemed very clumsy to coordinate alongside shock cooldowns and Lava Surge procs. The added difficulty is that the initial damage is still rather weak, and even combined with the damage boost to Lava Burst or Flame Shock, casting a Lightning Bolt is currently more damage per cast time. Until this problem is solved with improved scaling, inclusion in the main DPS priority is questionable. A good alternative is to use the spell whenever moving, an approach that will reduce the impact of movement upon your DPS as a whole.
Spiritwalker's Grace is a much longer cooldown that shaman get at level 85. This is an unusual spell that takes time to get used to, so I suggest keybinding it somewhere accessible and starting to hit it as often as possible. It requires both the ability to cast while moving (a feeling that is still pretty alien to me) and some knowledge of when it is appropriate to use in a given boss fight. Practice makes perfect! The most fun I've had with it so far was using it to cast Earthquake in Tol Barad, but other uses might include continuing to DPS the boss or casting heals on the move to survive a particularly nasty mechanic.
Glyph choices are much more personal choice these days. The introduction of prime glyphs has taken a lot of the rigidity and pain out of the glyph system. Glyph of Lightning Bolt remains our most powerful glyph, but the advent of Lava Surge has made Glyph of Lava Burst a great choice for second prime glyph. The third slot is down to personal preference and length of boss fight. Glyph of Fire Elemental is fun for dungeon farming, and on longer boss fights the reduced cooldown really shines when you're able to drop it more than once. Glyph of Flametongue Weapon is a free 2 percent crit as long as Flametongue Weapon imbue is active. Glyph of Flame Shock is a solid choice if you're having problems with Earth Shock and Flame Shock conflicts, or if you just don't want to use the global cooldown as often.
Major glyphs are, as I said last time, very much a matter of personal preference. Glyph of Chain Lightning is extremely fun but certainly not necessary. The only truly essential glyph, in my opinion, is Glyph of Lightning Shield, which prevents LS from dropping off due to incoming damage. Glyph of Hex, Elemental Mastery and even Healing Stream Totem have their uses.
Blizzard also introduced our first cosmetic glyph, Glyph of Arctic Wolf. I'm hoping that particular glyph is just a proof of concept, as the effect is pretty underwhelming, and I'm keen to see what new cosmetic glyphs they release in future.
Gems, enchants and reforging for raiding
In Wrath, gemming was fairly simple. Stack spellpower gems, except for the occasional Reckless Ametrine in a yellow socket, and two blue gems to activate the meta. In Cataclysm, things have changed a little. Our best choice for a meta-gem is the new Burning Shadowspirit Diamond, but an acceptable (and cheaper) alternative is Chaotic Shadowspirit Diamond. The main goal is to gem for intellect as much intellect as possible, using the Brilliant cut. For good socket bonuses involving a yellow socket, the Reckless Ember Topaz (or Hessonite) is best. Finally, for any blue gems, I would suggest Purified Demonseye, although Veiled cut will do just as well. Don't ever socket for pure mastery or haste; hybrid intellect gems will always yield more bang for your buck.
If spell hit is an issue, stick with the Purified Demonseye or a Sparkling cut (pure spirit).
In an ideal world, we would get all the spirit/hit we needed directly from our gear or reforging. Reaching the spell hit cap at level 85 is still a must for raiding, so gemming and enchanting for spirit is a real possibility. If you are under hit cap (1,742 / 1,640), have a look at spirit and spirit/int gems to fill the gap. As for enchants, the same applies. Use spirit enchants to cap, then look for intellect > haste > mastery when a spirit enchant isn't available.
Reforging is currently a game of hunt for haste. If you are not hit-capped, then reforge any crit to spirit; otherwise, leave mastery and haste alone. If you are hit-capped, then reforge crit and excess spirit/hit to haste. I'm feeling extremely haste-starved in my preparations for raiding, but as your gear improves, it will be worth reforging a little of that crit to mastery instead of haste. That said, don't stress too badly if you are a little short of the hit cap. The cap is intentionally hard to reach, in order to keep hit and spirit relevant for DPSers as we upgrade our gear.
As ever, if you have any further questions, feel free to send me an email. I am currently in the process of moving house and staying with relatives for the holiday period, so I can't always to answer them immediately, but I will attempt to include them in a future elemental mail bag. I hope you've been enjoying leveling and dungeoneering as much as I have over the past few days!
Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk. Ready to take your elemental shaman up to the new level cap? We'll help you get to level 85 with our guide to leveling an elemental shaman.