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Totem Talk: Elemental tier 12 nerfed on the PTR

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.)

As I sit writing this, there's a huge storm raging outside my house. Thunderstorm's customary 45-second cooldown isn't in effect, and there's so much lightning flashing it's sort of like Pikachus are having a Pokemon battle in the sky. Oh, and there's rain, too. Not the nice, healing kind that you like to stand in, either. I'm thinking this storm might be the response of elemental shaman everywhere to today's latest 4.3 changes, when this gem was found on the PTR. (Please note: This isn't reflected in Blizzard's official patch notes yet, but the change is up on test realms.)

Your damaging spells have a 30% chance to reduce the remaining cooldown on your Fire Elemental Totem by 4 sec.

Yeah, that happened. We kind of had a feeling it would, since the T12 set bonus is so ridiculously good -- like, it's so good that if it were a cake or any other form of dessert, it would give you diabetes just from looking at it. My earliest estimates of the set bonus said it was something like a 3,000 DPS increase. By BIS heroic gear, it's more like a 6,000 DPS increase from a single set bonus. For gear balance issues, that bonus was too good. Blizzard generally intends set bonuses to be within the ballpark of 5% DPS increases. This was more like 15% to 20%.

Making the best of a bad situation

So I'm not going to complain about the fact that Blizzard nerfed the set bonus, because I do think it was actually warranted in the interest of bringing the set bonus in line with other tier bonuses. I'm not even going to complain about the fact that Blizzard nerfed the set bonus while totally ignoring the underlying issues with the elemental spec that cause the T12 two-piece bonus to be so good for us, because that's a talking point that I know will be shouted from the highest mountaintops of the PTR Feedback and Damage Dealing forums until patch 4.3 hits. What I am going to do is talk about what this change will actually mean after the feeling of being sucker punched subsides.

I hopped onto the PTR pretty soon after reading this set bonus, because I wanted to know more. First things first, I tried tier 12 in conjunction with the prime Glyph of Fire Elemental Totem, to see if the two played nicely together. To my surprise, they did! For my test, my Lightning Bolt cast time was 1.64 seconds with just totems down. I used no Bloodlust but did use Elemental Mastery on cooldown. Following the normal elemental priority list, I was able to manage about 95% uptime on Fire Elemental Totem over the course of 10 minutes. Twice, there were 5-second gaps after it expired before the cooldown was up again. Also twice, I had it off cooldown 5 to 10 seconds before my current FET expired.

Things were less awesome when I didn't use Glyph of Fire Elemental Totem. Substituting it for our current max DPS glyphs of Flame Shock/Lava Burst/Lightning Bolt (no Unleashed Lightning for training dummies!), FET was generally coming off cooldown at around the 3:30 mark. Bloodlust could probably push this down to near 3 minutes flat, allowing you to do one FET phase, one Searing Totem, and then another FET phase.

Don't get excited just yet

While Glyph of Fire Elemental definitely eases the blow from this set bonus, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. First, using the glyph forces us away from using either Glyph of Lightning Bolt or Glyph of Lava Burst, which are both solid DPS glyphs. This is especially painful on movement fights, where we'll already be dropping one of those for Glyph of Unleashed Lightning. Elemental's choices for prime glyphs are getting a little bloated, and I'd really like to see Unleashed Lightning get made into a major one of these days.

Second, and this is the real hard hitter, is this: This bonus will no longer allow us to maximize Fire Elemental damage by dropping it during intellect/spellpower procs. It also totally screws us if our Fire Elemental dies to any boss mechanic. With the current T12 two-piece, you can sit on your refreshed FET cooldown while he's still out whacking away at the boss. If he leashes and stops attacking or if he dies and stops attacking, you can immediately redrop and wait for another cooldown refresh so you can maximize his damage. If he doesn't die or leash, you can sit on the CD and wait for Power Torrent and Darkmoon Card: Volcano to proc, allowing you to drop him at a higher spellpower level.

This bonus change kills that, because you'll most likely be redropping FET as soon as it comes off cooldown. Admittedly, it might be more damage to drop a Searing Totem and wait for procs to drop FET again, but I don't have numbers to back that up. Simcraft will let us know. At any rate, this change will end up being a bit of a damage nerf, even if you manage to keep 100% uptime on your Fire Elemental totem.

Some other things to note about this bonus: First, mastery does have a chance to proc the cooldown reduction. This will actually increase the value of using a two-piece T12/ two-piece T13 set-up, as the 2,000 mastery bonus will help Fire Elemental Totem's cooldown. Second, and perhaps more important, is that each jump of Chain Lightning can proc the cooldown reduction. I was able to reliably keep up an unglyphed FET with near 100% uptime by spamming Chain Lightning on the three target dummies in Stormwind.

A dubious conclusion

In the end, my original gut-wrenching Oh no, what have they done! reaction to this bonus proved to be unneeded. Honestly, I think this bonus would have made every elemental shaman squeal in delight if it had been our original tier 12 bonus. Especially when coupled with Glyph of Fire Elemental totem, it remains a very nice bonus and is probably still a bit more of a DPS bonus than normal tier bonuses.

I do have one concern, though -- well, two, but I promised not to complain that this still does nothing to address elemental's reliance on a clumsy, uncontrollable, 10-minute cooldown, suicidal pet. On to my concern: If Blizzard just wanted to nerf the DPS increase this set bonus gave to bring it in line with other tier bonuses, its mission was accomplished. However, if it wanted to prevent the use of tier 12 over four-piece tier 13, I'm not seeing that in the reworked bonus. Yes, it was nerfed, but as the rest of our gear fills in with Dragon Soul raid pieces, we'll have more haste and more mastery, meaning shorter FET cooldowns. This bonus is likely still going to remain good into heroic mode content, and that makes me worry that this nerf will have been for nothing.

Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk: Elemental. Let's get down to business with a heart-to-heart on fixing the fire elemental problem, and then join us for a discussion of best practices for elemental shaman.

Filed under: Shaman, Analysis / Opinion, Raiding, (Shaman) Totem Talk, Cataclysm

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