This is a brief guide to the absolute basics of elemental DPS for the beginner or inquirer or anyone who’s curious to know how the class-spec plays. It doesn’t cover some of the more advanced quirks and tricks and general weird phenomena of top-end elemental play but is more than sufficient to get started with! It is up to date for patch 3.3.5.
Elemental is the caster DPS shaman talent spec. It focuses on direct nature and fire damage, and like all shaman specs requires careful use of totems and cooldowns. Generally we’re found at range doing pure DPS against a single target, though we have decent AoE and excellent general utility tools available if the raid needs them. This guide focuses on the pure DPS side.
- 1. Spells & Rotation
- 2. What to do while moving
- 3. Totem basics
- 4. Heroism/Bloodlust
- 5. Stats & Gear
- 6. Talents & Glyphs
1. Spells & Rotation
Elemental is pretty simple to get a basic grasp of. There are three spells to consider in the basic rotation, and some extra for multiple targets:
- Flame Shock: A small direct damage hit followed by a long damage-over-time effect. Because it’s instant and only costs a global cooldown to use, this is a very high DPSC (damage per second cast) spell; however, its worth lies mostly in its interaction with Lava Burst.
- Lava Burst: A quick-cast nuke on an 8 second cooldown. If your Flame Shock is on the target, Lava Burst will always crit. This makes it the cornerstone of our DPS cycle. In starter level 80 gear, Lava Burst will account for 25-30% of your DPS if used correctly, despite only occupying 15% of your casting time.
- Lightning Bolt: Our bread-and-butter nuke, with no cooldown and a base talented cast time of 2 seconds. This should make up about 50-60% of your DPS in early level 80 gear.
- Chain Lightning: A powerful and fast-casting nuke that chains to hit as many as three targets, but it costs a lot of mana and is generally not worth using on single targets.
- Fire Nova: A sharp blast of AoE centred around whichever Fire totem we have currently dropped, its damage and mana cost make it only worthwhile when multiple targets will be hit.
The basic elemental rotation is actually a set of priorities. What you cast depends on what spell you prioritise. Remember that as a shaman your top priority at all times is that your totems are down and in range of your raid group.
- Top priority: Flame Shock. Is Flame Shock on the target? If not, cast it as soon as possible.
- Second priority: Lava Burst. Is Lava Burst off cooldown? If so, cast it as soon as possible. It’s important to only cast this while flame shock is active to ensure that it crits.
- Final priority: Lightning Bolt. If Flame Shock is up and Lava Burst is on cooldown, fill in the time until you next need to refresh flame shock or cast lava burst using lightning bolts.
Chain Lightning can also be used in situations where there are multiple mobs to hit; prioritise it just below Lava Burst. Generally don’t worry about fitting chain lightning into a normal rotation until you are very advanced at elemental DPS and looking for new ways to squeeze a tiny bit more DPS out of your spec.
Elemental Mastery is a 3-minute cooldown ability which adds a little bit of extra DPS to our rotation when used. Use it early and as often as possible, or save it for crucial high-DPS burn phases – though it’s generally best not to use it with heroism. It doesn’t trigger the global cooldown, so you can cast immediately after using it.
And just to note, Flametongue Weapon is the imbue you should be using as an elemental shaman; talented, it gives us an extra 274 spelldamage.
The WoW servers allow you to “queue” up your next spell by pressing the button to cast it when your previous spellcast is nearly finished – about 0.3 seconds left. You can dramatically improve the amount of damage you do by taking advantage of this fact and always pre-casting your next spell just before the previous one ends. Note this only works if the game client thinks the spell you are queueing is not on cooldown.
2. What to do while moving
Many fights involve movement, and maximising the damage you do when forced to move is important. Generally speaking:
- If you have to move and Flame Shock is not on cooldown, cast it even if it’s already ticking. You cannot cast your higher DPS spells while moving, and this will save you time refreshing it later.
- If you know you will need to move in the near future, for example to drop totems, try to time your movement with your Flame Shock refresh. You can spend a second and a half moving with absolutely no DPS loss whatsoever if you time it right.
- As you’ve nothing better to do while moving, it is a good time to redrop totems. Again, this may save you time later in the fight.
- If you know you will absolutely have to move again soon and Flame Shock has a long duration left on its DoT, you can consider casting Frost Shock if threat allows or Earth Shock if threat is problematic.
- If your shocks are on cooldown and if there are targets near your fire totem, you can cast Fire Nova.
- Movement is also an excellent time to use Thunderstorm to get a bit of mana back or even deal some extra damage, provided it’s safe to do so. If your Water Shield spell is getting low, movement is also the best time to refresh it.
- While moving, see if you can stop long enough to cast a Lava Burst or Chain Lightning. These are short cast spells and can often be safely weaved into movement such as the “Dance” on Heigan.
3. Totem basics
Totems are the core of the shaman class and an important part of the elemental spec. You should always make sure to choose the right totems and keep them down at all times. Remember that most totems only have a 30 yard range and it is your responsibility to make sure everyone (and every mob) that needs to be affected by them is in range!
Here are our most often-used totems, coloured and ordered by the element they’re associated with:
Note that any fire totem can be used to cast Fire Nova.
- Totem of Wrath is our core talented totem, it provides both spellpower – which is roughly equivalent to and does not stack with a Demonology warlock’s Demonic Pact – and a crit debuff which is equivalent to and does not stack with Master Poisoner (Rogue) and Heart of the Crusader (Paladin). However, the passive and AoE nature of the totem’s debuff makes it superior to both of these in a situation with multiple mobs. Please note it does not stack with Flametongue Totem.
- If we’re in a raid with another elemental shaman or a demonology warlock, we can drop Searing Totem for extra personal DPS. Unfortunately it has to be within 20 yards of the target you want it to hit. Its big brother is the cooldown-limited Fire Elemental Totem.
- Magma Totem is our AoE equivalent of Searing Totem and does a very reasonable amount of damage. Before you cast it you have to weigh up what it’ll cost your group to lose Totem of Wrath’s buff, as well as bearing in mind that you need to move into melee range of the monsters you want it to affect to set it down.
- Wrath of Air Totem is our class-unique spell haste buff, and you will probably want to drop this at all times.
- However, if there is another shaman using it or you are in a melee heavy group, you may want to drop Windfury instead. This buffs melee haste, but can be supplied by a frost-specced Death Knight instead.
- Mana Spring Totem is our normal choice of water school totems, but the buff is equivalent to and does not stack with Blessing of Wisdom. Resto shamans and holy paladins can talent this buff to be more effective than our standard mana spring.
- Healing Stream is a good choice if you already have a mana spring/BoW from another source. Alternatively if the fight involves diseases or poisons that need to be regularly removed, use Cleansing Totem.
- Strength of Earth Totem provides the same buff as a Death Knight’s Horn of Winter and gives us elementals no benefit. It is however a significant buff to physical DPS classes and should be dropped if there’s no Death Knight around.
- Stoneskin Totem is the alternative to SoE, and provides an armor buff to all in range. Oddly it does stack with Devotion Aura’s armor buff.
- Tremor Totem is the totem to use in any fight that involves fears. Earthbind Totem can be extremely useful in add-control fights as ours functions like a sort of frost nova equivalent. But be careful not to annoy the tanks by locking down mobs they are trying to move.
This spell – Heroism for the Alliance, Bloodlust for the Horde – is one of our most powerful contributions to a raid and essentially compresses 50 seconds worth of damage (or healing) into 40 seconds. The best time to use heroism for raw DPS is just after the start of a fight when the whole raid’s cooldowns are ready. However, most fights have phases or periods that require strong burst DPS or healing and heroism is better saved for these periods. Additionally, many fights force movement or prevent you from attacking the boss for periods; do NOT time heroism to co-incide with these times as you are essentially wasting the buff.
Depending on class balance in your raid, using heroism for the last 35% or so of a boss’ health is roughly equivalent in terms of DPS to using it at the start of a fight – but you risk having raiders dead or out of mana by this point, or having a fight mechanic (such as forced movement) that prevents maximum DPS. Therefore if in doubt, use it as early as possible.
Your Raid Leader will probably have a specific time in mind for heroism and you should always defer to his or her instructions. Check with the RL before a fight if you are not sure.
WARNING: Using heroism/bloodlust will apply a 10-minute debuff to the entire raid which prevents them benefiting from heroism/bloodlust until it expires. Thus if you use it at the wrong time, you’ve prevented it being used at the right time too. Be very careful and thoughtful about how you use this… but don’t neglect it either, it’s well worth using as often as possible!
5. Stats & gear
Gearing for elemental can be a little confusing, as sometimes the stats we are offered on items are not actually ideal. Here is a breakdown of the main bonuses you should be looking at:
- Spellpower: Our primary stat, and the one we want to stack as high as possible. It affects all of our damaging abilities. Get as much as this as you can, and gem for it.
- Haste: Almost, but not quite, as good as spellpower. Has an unfortunate and confusing interaction with the fixed Lava Burst cooldown, but that’s not important at a basic level – just fit in as many Lightning Bolts as you need to between Lava Bursts, even if that means exceeding the cooldown a little bit. Do not gem for this unless there is a good spellpower yellow socket bonus you could get by socketing a Reckless (spellpower and haste) gem.
- Hit: Against raid bosses, you have a 17% base chance to miss. Our Elemental Precision talent reduces this to 14%, and having a shadow priest or moonkin around provides an extra 3% chance to hit. If you are a draenei, you get another 1%. It is vital to be hitcapped as your DPS will vary extremely randomly if you are not. Aim for 11% (10% if you’re a draenei) with a shadowpriest/moonkin or 14% (13% if a draenei) without. Once you reach the hit cap, any further hit rating is sadly useless. Gemming for hit is fine if you need it. Thus the numbers you should aim for are:
Draenei with Misery: 263 hit rating (10%).
Draenei without Misery: 342 hit rating (13%).
Non-Draenei with Misery: 289 hit rating (11%).
Non-Draenei without Misery: 368 hit rating (14%).
- Crit: This is our weakest DPS stat as (1) it does not affect Lava Burst which is guaranteed to crit and (2) we have a very high inate crit chance with all our talents and buffs anyway, but still useful if it comes on our gear. Do not gem for it. Be very careful about choosing crit over haste as it’s usually not worthwhile.
- Intellect: The only primary stat that affects our DPS, it provides a marginal amount of crit and mana regen (which we don’t need). Do not gem for this, but it’s better than nothing – which is why we enchant our shields with it.
- Stamina: A dead shaman does zero DPS; do not despise stamina.
At the basic level you want to gem purely for spellpower. However, the best meta gem to use is Chaotic Skyflare Diamond by a very large margin, and to activate this you need two blue gems. Find places in your gear where there is a spellpower (or haste if no spellpower, or crit if no haste) socket bonus attached to a blue socket, and put a Glowing (spellpower and stamina) gem in it. You will need two of these to activate the meta gem.
Enchanting is intelligently based on our stat priorities above. The only exception is that enchanting boots with the movement speed increasing Tuskarr’s Vitality is strongly recommended.
Shoulder: Greater Inscription of the Storm (or Master’s for scribes)
Back: Greater Speed (or Arachnoweave for engineers, or Lightweave for tailors)
Chest: Powerful Stats
Wrists: Superior Spellpower (or Fur Lining for leatherworkers)
Waist: Eternal Belt Buckle!
Legs: Sapphire Spellthread
Ring: Enchanters can enchant their rings with Greater Spellpower
Shield: Greater Intellect
6. Talents & glyphs
The Cookie Cutter
Elemental uses a basic talent spec with not much variation as almost every talent is crucial for our maximum DPS. The “cookie cutter” spec is this 57/14/0 model. However, the tier 1 “Convection” talent is not always very useful in a raid situation as we tend to have nearly infinite mana, so many elementals instead take 3 points in tier 2’s “Elemental Warding” to negate some of the damage that flies about in boss fights. This is especially useful in heroic-mode encounters.
Two points in “Improved Ghostwolf” (tier 2 enhancement) can be fun and even very useful on outdoor boss fights (Halion, Razorscale and Sartharion). However if you want to absolutely maximise your AoE potential then the tier 4 elemental “Improved Fire Nova” talent will help, but it is situational and its benefit rather small.
A lot of new elemental shamans take points in Tier 3’s Reverberation, but we do not benefit from a shorter shock cooldown and cannot spare the points from anywhere else. It is primarily a PvP talent. I strongly recommend avoiding it if you are serious about DPS. Note that even if you are on interrupt duty on a boss fight, you will not have to interrupt more frequently than the base cooldown on Wind Shear anyway.
There are four major elemental glyphs to consider:
- Glyph of Lightning Bolt: This glyph contributes the most to our DPS as it affects the spell which accounts for most of our DPS. You should definitely take it.
- Glyph of Totem of Wrath: At level 80 this is a flat 84 spellpower bonus for five minutes after you drop ToW, that persists no matter which totem you use afterwards. It’s not a very exciting glyph, but it’s very valuable for DPS – it’s our second best DPS glyph and gains even more value in situations involving lots of movement, AoE, or unusual spell use.
- Glyph of Lava: A strong contender for our third glyph slot and a reliable source of extra damage. It benefits most from high spellpower and single target/high movement situations.
- Glyph of Flametongue Weapon: A flat 2% crit whenever our weapon is imbued with Flametongue, which should be always! Definitely better than Lava for multitarget fights and probably slightly better for most stand-and-nuke situations. Choosing between this and Glyph of Lava is mostly a matter of personal preference.
Although there are other major glyphs affecting spells we use, they do not come close to the DPS value of these four.
As for minor glyphs, there are two that are of note:
- Glyph of Water Shield: This adds an extra orb to our Water Shield spell. While we don’t really have mana problems, water shield is one of the reasons we don’t. This glyph means that we have to refresh it less, which means we have more time to do DPS. For that reason it’s actually a core DPS glyph even if the benefit is marginal.
- Glyph of Thunderstorm: This causes your Thunderstorm spell to restore 2% more mana, but removes its knockback effect. The upside is you can gain slightly more mana when you use it, and you can use it for extra AoE DPS without knocking the mobs out of everyone else’s AoE. However, the down side is that you lose one of our most useful control/emergency abilities. As elemental shamans generally do not have mana difficulties and we have far more powerful and reliable AoE in the form of magma totem and chain lightning, I recommend not taking this glyph unless you have a very good reason to.
And this concludes the primer.