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Totem Talk: How to level your elemental shaman

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Totem Talk for elemental, enhancement, and restoration shaman. Josh Myers once only tackled the hard questions about enhancement but has recently expanded his sphere of responsibility to all shaman DPS specs. (And no, two-handed enhancement is still never coming back.)

With the introduction of Blizzard's new free trial system, the number of low-level characters playing World of Warcraft has drastically risen. Whether it is established players creating alternate characters on new accounts, past players trying to decide if they want to return to the game, or persons who have never played WoW (or any video game!) before, Blizzard has made it both easy and appealing to start a new character.

At WoW Insider, we're aware of how scary it can be to start a character in the World of Warcraft. With tons of abilities, four equipment types, 12 races, and 10 classes with three talent trees each, WoW can be a confusing and intimidating game to start out. Fortunately, I'm going to help by alleviating some of the weight on your shoulders and help make your decision for you: roll a tauren elemental shaman. You'll look awesome, and then you can follow this handy elemental shaman leveling guide! It's a win/win situation.

What is elemental?

Elemental is a ranged caster DPS spec. As a caster spec, it has a few things in common with other caster classes you might have tried in the past. First, movement is restricted by your need to stand still and cast spells. While you do have Earth Shock for instant mobile damage, your primary source of damage at lower levels will be Lightning Bolt, so get used to the idea of planting yourself and chain casting. Second, you want to primarily be attacking from maximum range. This gives you the longest amount of time to pour your spells into a mob without moving, as well as lowering incoming damage on you and preventing spell pushback. These basic rules will stay somewhat consistent with every caster spec you choose, though individual abilities will vary between classes.

Being a caster, your low-level gearing revolves around one stat: intellect. Intellect gives you spellpower, spell critical hit, and mana, and every piece of gear that you choose should have this stat on it. Until level 40, you can use cloth and leather items. After level 40, you get access to mail. At level 50, you'll receive a bonus to your intellect if you're wearing mail in every slot. By this point, you should try to have a full mail intellect set.
For secondary stats -- stats that aren't intellect, agility, strength or stamina -- you primarily want critical hit and spirit (if you put talent points into Elemental Precision). The spirit will allow you to hit higher-level mobs, and critical hit rating causes your spells to sometimes do double damage. Since faster mob deaths equates directly to faster questing and faster leveling, critical hit beats out haste. This doesn't stay true at level cap, but while leveling, you want to crit as much as you possibly can.

Okay, but what do I cast?

Your staple ability from level 1 to level 85 is Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt starts off the game with a 1.5-second cast time, and by level 20 it plateaus at a 2.5-second cast. However, due to our elemental specialization Shamanism, the cast time of Lightning Bolt is never going to exceed 2 seconds. Lightning Bolt is your bread-and-butter spell and should occupy a very easily accessible spot on your action bar.

At very low levels, your other primary damage-dealing spells will be your shocks. Earth Shock and Flame Shock have a shared cooldown, which means casting one of them locks you out of casting the other for 6 seconds. Earth Shock is a very basic burst damage spell, offering instant earth damage on a 6-second cooldown. While this damage is very high for the first 10 levels of the game, Earth Shock is quickly outpaced by Lightning Bolt, and Earth Shock really is only useful as an ability to cast when your enemy is at low health to try and instantly kill it. Flame Shock is a damage over time spell that deals more damage per cast than Earth Shock, but only if allowed to run to its full duration (or if you have access to Lava Burst). Before level 34, if mobs aren't living for 18 seconds, you'll want to use Lightning Bolt as much as possible and Earth Shock only when enemies are near death.

The last part of your rotation comes into play at level 34. The ability Lava Burst is an automatic critical strike with Flame Shock up on your target, which also makes Flame Shock worth casting to start fights even if the mob won't survive long. Lava Burst is a very fast 1.5-second cast, and the incredible instant crit means that it will be a considerable portion of your damage. As a result, your most basic rotation once past level 34 will be: Keep Flame Shock up on your target, use Lava Burst on cooldown, and use Lightning Bolt in between ability cooldowns.

The fun abilities!

There are more abilities in an elemental shaman's repertoire, of course. In order to keep our enemies at a distance, we can skip Flame and Earth Shocks in favor of the 50% snare from Frost Shock, but doing so means losing instant crits from Lava Burst. You also have Thunderstorm to knock back mobs that get in your face, as well as Earthbind Totem (and later, the Earth's Grasp talent) to help you run back into range. If things get really tough, you've got Stoneclaw Totem to grab aggro and take a hit or three for you, as well as offering a handy shield if you have it glyphed.

Speaking of glyphs, the main glyphs you'll be looking for are Unleashed Lightning and Lava Burst. Unleashed Lightning lets you cast Lightning Bolt while moving, which makes it extremely good for leveling. Lava Burst adds some more burst to your Lava Burst, and while leveling, burst DPS is king. You also want to grab a Glyph of Lightning Shield, as it makes keeping Lightning Shield up much less of a chore.

Elemental has access to a number of buffing abilities for itself. (A buff is an ability that enhances yourself or your allies.) The main self buff that elemental uses is Flametongue Weapon, which temporarily imbues your weapon to do fire damage on every melee hit and give you a nice increase to your spellpower. While the bonus fire damage doesn't matter, since you'll always be casting spells and not using your melee weapon, the extra spellpower is very nice. Make sure to have this buff up at all times. Since it is a 30-minute buff that persists through death, this should not be much of an issue!

You also have Water Shield and Lightning Shield. Lightning Shield deals damage back to your attack if enemies hit you, while Water Shield provides some passive mana regeneration. If you notice yourself needing to drink a lot while Lightning Shield is on, you might want to switch to Water Shield. Conversely, if you're almost never drinking and think you want more damage when mobs try to melee you, you can switch to Lightning Shield. Lightning Shield also is benefited by the talents Rolling Thunder and Fulmination, which means it will likely be what you want to use once you're in your 50s or 60s.

As a shaman, you also get access to a wide variety of totems that buff your group, as well as damaging totems like Searing Totem and Fire Elemental Totem. The buffs these totems give are very nice, such as 5% spell haste or 6% spellpower. However, totems are stationary and require a global cooldown and a hefty mana cost in order to place. If you are doing a quest where you can drop your totems and comfortably complete the quest while within totem range, or if you're fighting tougher mobs, they're worth dropping. If you're instead running around like a madman hunting that last spider in Redridge Mountains, don't worry about them.

Talent choices for leveling as elemental are largely a matter of preference. My personal talent build suggestion is this one, choosing damage increasing talents over survivability talents because you'll kill most mobs before they can touch you. Some talents are debatable. I choose Elemental Precision because the hit rating it gives allows you to hit mobs that are higher level than you, which can be beneficial. If you'd rather play it safe and go for Elemental Warding, there is no harm in that. I suggest this spec because it gets you all the talents required for increasing elemental's damage, as well as having Earth's Grasp for some added control.

Lastly, I'd like to draw your attention to Reincarnation, one of our defining class abilities. Available at level 30, Reincarnation is a "please be kind -- rewind!" button that returns you to life in the event of your untimely demise. Since this is an MMORPG and things will spend most of your playtime trying to kill you, death does happen. Having an ability that forgives you for making mistakes makes life much easier. Just don't forget to keep a stack of Ankhs in your bag, or spring for a Glyph of Renewed Life.

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, Cataclysm

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