Damage dealing. The next few columns will discuss just how shamans go about putting the hurt on people: this series (The Arsenal) is about totems, shocks and the two lightning bolt spells, the offensive arsenal of the shaman class. As you first start out playing a shaman, you quickly learn that there are a variety of ways to output damage as a shaman: offensive totems, instant-cast but short range shocks, and longer rage lightning bolt and chain lightning spells with a casting time. As time passes and you settle into either a melee role using weapons or a caster role (meaning that you don't want to be anywhere near the things you're killing) you'll change the way you use these abilities. There are effectively two 'play styles' for the shaman, which we'll call 'elemental' and 'enhancement' for the specs that make the optimum use of these styles: a restoration shaman can act like an elemental or an enhancement shaman as he or she chooses, but even in equivalent gear she'll of course be less effective at dealing damage than they are, since the restoration spec is optimized for healing.
This week we'll be primarily talking about totems in a direct offensive role.
Some totems, of the fire variety, deal direct damage, either through a directed fireball effect (Searing Totem) an area effect burst (Fire Nova Totem) or a continuing AoE pulse (Magma Totem). There are other totems that an enhancement or elemental playstyle benefits from dropping during combat (we all know about Windfury, Grace of Air, Wrath of Air, and Totem of Wrath by now I'd assume) but these are not direct damage totems and so this paragraph is the last time I'll be mentioning them. It's interesting to note that Totem of Wrath is a fire totem, and so you can't drop any of the direct damage totems if you use it, but by the time an elemental shaman has Totem of Wrath he or she probably prefers it for most situations anyway. A starting shaman will probably be dropping Searing Totem as much as possible, mana permitting, as it's one of the first offensive totems you'll get (level 10 vs Fire Nova at level 12 and Magma Totem at level 26).