After one near-sleepless night, two ten hour leveling binges, and too many caffeinated beverages to count, Elamism's ascent to level 90 has successfully ended. You're going to be seeing a lot of words and phrases like "grueling" or "arduous" or "I had more fun passing a gallstone" going around the internet this week to describe the leveling process. From my experiences, I'd be inclined to agree...but I'd be wrong to.
The only reason this leveling was arduous was because a bunch of half-manic masochists with dreams of server first raid kills (a group I belong to myself) decided to try condensing a two-three week long leveling process into a 24-36 hour period. We skipped quest text, raged at NPC dialogue, wasting and spent entirely too much time ghost-running to our bodies because our sleep-deprived brains didn't realize the mountain under our feet had ended until it was too late to Parachute Cloak.
The one thing I did not rage at once in my 20.5 hour voyage to level 90 was my class. Shaman are a class that almost seem designed to rock at solo play. We have a strong utility toolbox, self-healing, and reasonable AOE ability. My leveling speed strongly depended on me maximizing smart usage of all of these abilities, as well as good decision making with my talents and glyphs.
A toolbox to make Bob the Builder angry
Both specs of DPS shaman have strong baseline utility, and these are abilities you will need to acquaint yourself in order to keep yourself alive. Wind Shear and Grounding Totem are a potent combination for surviving casters, while Tremor Totem allows us to break the Fears that send us careening off into groups of hostile mobs. Ghost Wolf minimizes travel time over short distances, and works to close gaps or to run away from groups of mobs. Earth Elemental Totem gives you a powerful short-term tank, and Fire Elemental Totem adds some burst damage on command.
Reawakening with Reincarnation
But the biggest, baddest, strongest ability in the leveling shaman toolkit has to be Reincarnation. You will die. If Mists of Pandaria has taught me anything, it's that there are a million ways to die while soloing. 90% of the time you'll be dying to trying to run past groups of mobs and getting dazes on your mount, but there will also be times where you pull too many mobs to deal with. Or, you can walk off the side of a mountain in Kun-Lai Summit without realizing it. Reincarnation allows you to conveniently skip the downtime of ghost-running, but beware of using it in spots where you will just die again.
Elemental can kite with Spiritwalker's Grace while casting Chain Lightning to wreck groups of five mobs. At level 87, it becomes even more brutal, as Ascendance gives elemental access to Lava Beam, a five-target Chain Lightning that doesn't decrease damage on bounces. Ascendance only lasts fifteen seconds, but you don't need that much time to blow up an opposing group of mobs.
The most important thing with using AOE effectively while leveling is to know your limits. Jade Forest is a cakewalk because the mobs are designed to be accessible to players with level 80-85 questing greens. However, as you level your epic items will be replaced with level 87 quest greens while mob HP and damage scales dramatically higher. While I did manage to survive pulls of 7-8 mobs in Townlong Steppes and Dread Wastes, it was often after using every single cooldown and ability at my disposal and still ending the fight at 5% health. My own ego became the single largest detriment to my character's health in those zones.
Too many talents, not enough points
The interesting thing about leveling is that both my elemental and enhancement spec made use (or should have made use) of the exact same talents. The ideal leveling spec, to me, takes these talents: Astral Shift only helps with the first 6 seconds of damage coming to you. This can give you time to kill a mob or two, but SBT provides sustained damage absorption that I find more effective towards sustaining life.
Earthgrab Totem is the one thing I leveled without, and the one ability that would have saved my life four of the seven times I actually died during questing. I didn't want to waste time finding a Tome of Clear Mind to drop Frozen Power and picking it up, but grab it if you have the chance to. It's absurdly powerful for both specs; for one it allows elemental to gain distance and blow the grouped mobs up. For enhancement, it allows you to root mobs that would otherwise kill you to run away and heal up, as well as wait on cooldowns for more powerful abilities.
Totemic Projection has great synergy with Earthgrab Totem, allowing you to drop a Capacitor Totem from a distance to keep mobs locked down longer. It's a hard choice when put up against Call of the Elements, which allows you to drop multiple Capacitor/Earthgrab/Stone Bulwark Totems in quick succession. Echo of the Elements contends with Elemental Mastery; I like EotE because I don't need to consciously thing about using it, and because it provides mana-free healing if it procs off Healing Surge.
Healing Tide Totem is an amazing raid cooldown for resto shaman, and can be good self-healing for enhancement and elemental. Unfortunately, it doesn't hold a candle to Ancestral Guidance. AG is off the global cooldown, and heals based on how much damage you're doing. This means that rather than worrying about keeping yourself alive when you get low, you can just pop AG and try to murder the enemy mobs even harder while watching your health climb.
Glyphs: The good, the mediocre, and the ugly
As for glyphs, Ghost Wolf, Flame Shock, Unleashed Lightning, and Capacitor Totem are all good choices for both specs. And if you're wondering why I include Unleashed Lightning for enhancement, it's because being able to continue dealing damage while running to mobs or away from them is ideal for leveling. It's not in my top three glyph choices, but if you want to use it it is effective.
Spec specific, Glyph of Healing Storm is a requirement for enhancement leveling. It's ridiculously powerful and will mean the difference between surviving a group of mobs at 10% and being dead. Glyph of Feral Spirit can be good, as Feral Spirit's only real use is as a 30-second continuous heal, but I didn't use it. Glyph of Spirit Walk and Glyph of Shamanistic Rage are both good choices; there are a lot of mobs that debuff you with magic that make Glyph of Shamanistic Rage useful.
To round it out, Glyph of the Lakestrider and Glyph of Astral Recall will probably be your main minor glyph choices. Pandaria is filled with annoying lakes and rivers to cross, and Lakestrider makes them much more manageable. Astral Recall allows you to set your hearth to a quest node, do a quick run to complete the quests, and then Astral Recall back to hand them in. Glyph of Astral Recall isn't a requirement unless you delete your Hearthstone for bag space, though.
As I mentioned earlier, a lot of things got on my nerves while leveling in Mists of Pandaria, but none of those things involved my class. I was glad my first leveling experience to 90 was with something as good at soloing multiple mobs as the shaman, because if I had to spend the past two days only killing solitary mobs until level 90 I might actually have broken my second computer in a month.
Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk: Enhancement every week. We've got enhancement-specific advice on 4 ways to increase your DPS, the ups and downs of enhancement in Dragon Soul, and gearing up for Raid Finder raids.