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Totem Talk: The evolution of elemental shaman in patch 4.2

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Totem Talk for elemental, enhancement and restoration shaman. 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 from The 'mental Shaman, co-host of the Obscurecast, and founding member of TotemSpot.

I'm sure some of you have noticed my lengthy absence from these hallowed pages -- but fear not, for the druid columnists have not succeeded in hunting me down yet! Since my last post, my guild has celebrated its second birthday, I've moved house, moved offices and started studying part-time. Now I am back and ready to ruminate some more.

Last time I posted, I covered some of my favorite addons, and I did promise some Power Auras, but with some of the rather out-there changes appearing in patch 4.2, I want to talk about the direction that Cataclysm is taking the elemental spec. Let's start by taking a look at the relevant patch 4.2 notes after the jump.

  • Lightning Shield and Water Shield can no longer be dispelled.
  • Unleash Elements is now in the Nature school, and thus can no longer be used if a shaman's Nature school has been locked out.
  • Water Shield has had its internal cooldown reduced to 3.5 seconds, once again matching other shields. The amount of mana restored when Water Shield procs has been reduced by 50%.
Talent Specializations - Elemental
  • Lava Flows now grants a 30/60/90% haste buff when a Flame Shock effect is dispelled, up from 10/20/30%.
  • Thunderstorm now reduces the movement speed of players it knocks back by 40% for 5 seconds.
Glyphs
  • Glyph of Unleashed Lightning (new Prime glyph) allows Lightning Bolt to be cast while moving.
Set Bonuses
  • The 4-piece Elemental shaman PvP set bonus (Gladiator's Thunderfist set) has been redesigned. It now causes Lightning Shield to generate an extra charge, rather than consuming one, when it is triggered by receiving damage, up to a maximum of 3 (9 with the Rolling Thunder talent).

So far, so good as far as PVP shaman are concerned. These may not have been the buffs we were looking for, but they'll go a long way towards causing other players to curse us in battlegrounds. 90% haste? Lightning Shield charges on receiving damage? Oh, so sorry, I didn't mean to drool on your patch notes.

What caught my PvE eye is that shiny new Glyph of Unleashed Lightning. Sadly, it isn't live on the PTR as I write this, but the ability to cast Lightning Bolt on the move could be a real game-changer. Would this be a situational glyph, or can it earn a permanent slot? Are there any fights that really do not require it? What glyph would you swap out? A lot of shaman have been calling for this to become a major glyph, and personally, I don't blame them. It seems mighty odd to have two prime glyphs for one spell, even if that spell is our bread and butter. Despite technically being a utility glyph in that it gives no numerical increase in DPS, this glyph is far too strong to be a major glyph. As for which glyph to swap out, we'll be choosing between Glyph of Lava Burst and Glyph of Flame Shock. Players who are confident in their shock management skills will opt to swap out the latter.

From planted feet to casting on the run

Setting aside the immediate concerns of how best to utilize this new tool, there is the matter of our T12 set bonuses. The current iteration of the four-piece bonus makes Lava Surge proc an instant-cast Lava Burst. While this bonus may well be a placeholder, its very existence points to the fact that Blizzard is trying to solve our mobility issues. Combining the T12 four-piece bonus and the new glyph means that nearly the entire elemental single-target rotation is always available while moving, as long as the character is facing the target. I don't know about you, but that leaves me a little flummoxed.

While "turret" has been a part of our spec identity for as long as I can remember, the concept has a fundamental mismatch with movement-heavy Cataclysm encounters. This glyph and the T12 four-piece set bonus signal the possible end of elemental as "turret casters." There's little point in Blizzard tethering the player to the turret concept when the content doesn't allow for it.

Totem tethering

The two-piece set bonus, placeholder or not, depends on the capricious nature of the Fire Elemental Totem. Just as Lava Surge is not without its implementation issues, Fire Elemental Totem can be a moment of supreme pew pew. It can also be that moment when all your cooldown eggs are in one basket and your buffed-to-the-nines Fire Elemental stands around picking his nose instead of smashing things. Good totem placement can help mitigate this, but sometimes even the best-placed totem can result in a grumpy moment of disappointment. There's a possibility that the new Assist stance for pets will help, but there are definitely no certainties that tethering is going to be solved any time soon.

A lot depends on the actual proc rate for the two-piece bonus. Too high and it will completely devalue Glyph of Fire Elemental. Too low and it'll be largely irrelevant.

Do you like these set bonuses? While they are subject to change, I think they indicate Blizzard's intention to make set bonuses more interesting in the second tier of the expansion. Serving an instant-cast Lava Burst to the face of an unsuspecting enemy can never be anything but fun!

Identity crisis

This isn't the first time that the identity of the shaman class identity of the shaman class has had to shift. I don't have a problem with elemental shaman veering from turret to mobile caster, but I do wonder where the spec is going to end up.

I completely understood the method in taking away unique buffs and disconnecting spec/class identity from specific, powerful abilities, but how much is the spec able to bend and still retain the iconic notes that are the gameplay equivalent of the recognizable silhouette? If turret play is truly a hallmark of the elemental shaman, due to the innate tethering of plonking down totems, then what defines the class when the invisible tether is cut? A particular flavor of cooldown management, spiced with lava and lightening? The remains of our glorious totems in the shape of Fire Elemental Totem and Searing Totem, or the remnants of our time as a true hybrid class? Although the days of getting a spot only for the Bloodlust are behind us, we're still damn useful in so many ways, due to a great variety of utility spells.

Well, if you can't tell, I'm still smitten with my dwarf shaman, so I'll raise a tankard to the evolution of our spec identity in Cataclysm, wherever it leads.

Again, thank you for your patience during my break and to those of you who sent concerned emails. If you have any questions, please send me an email, or you can poke me on Twitter at @mentalshaman.

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, dig into pre-raid gear and DPS trinkets, and find the addons that'll help your performance shine.

Filed under: Shaman, (Shaman) Totem Talk

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