The signature totem and 41-point talent of Elemental Shamans is Totem of Wrath, which when dropped uses our fire-school totem slot. This totem is a powerful combination of buff/debuff which greatly benefits any raid or party; however, we also have a number of fire-school totems which can do direct damage and there are times when we want to use one of them instead. This guide will cover when, why and how to use fire DPS totems.
Totem of Wrath
First off, let’s talk about ToW! It provides a very powerful buff – 280 spellpower – and debuff – 3% crit taken to all enemy targets in range. If, however, you glance at the Buffs & Debuffs list, you’ll notice that other classes and specs can supply the same debuff and the same or better buff. Specifically:
- the crit debuff is covered if there is a Retribution Paladin or Assassination Rogue in your party/raid
- the spellpower buff is covered if you have a Demonology Warlock with at least 2800 spellpower in your party/raid
- Obviously a second Elemental Shaman in your party/raid can also supply both buff and debuff.
If you have both of these bases covered, then you are under no obligation to drop Totem of Wrath and can start to think about using other fire totems.
However if one or both of these effects is not supplied by anybody else, then it’s almost certainly going to benefit your group more to drop Totem of Wrath. Mathematically, you have to weigh up the consequences of losing spellpower and/or crit chance for the entire raid against the DPS gain you expect from using a DPS totem. In almost all situations raid DPS will suffer more than your personal DPS will increase.
It’s also important to think about the situation you’re in for any specific encounter! For example, if there’s nothing for a warlock’s pet to be attacking and getting crits on, your raid won’t be getting the spellpower buff even with a demo lock present. Similarly, a ret pally won’t be applying judgements to every target in a big AoE situation. And of course dead demo locks and ret pallies don’t buff/debuff anything. Be prepared to drop Totem of Wrath when the situation calls for it even if in theory you have the bases covered.
The DPS totems
OK, so you know when to drop Totem of Wrath and thus lock yourself out of our beautiful, precious DPS totems… but what about when we can actually use them? Let’s go over the 3 options.
1. Fire Elemental Totem
This guy has been buffed, tweaked and generally made a lot more useful over the course of Wrath of the Lich King. He’s now on a 10-minute cooldown, lasts for 2 minutes, and benefits from all the normal AoE damage reductions that other “pets” get.
Duration: 2 minutes
No. of targets: AoE-wise, he has both a Fire Shield which pulses against all nearby targets every 3 seconds and a Fire Nova which affects all nearby targets and can be cast every 7 seconds or so. Against single targets he also uses a melee attack that does fire damage (and is thus not affected by physical-type debuffs) and a Fire Blast.
Stats: The Fire Friend benefits from our Spellpower, Hit rating/Expertise (his melee attacks are subject to parries, dodges, blocks etc.), Attack Power and Intellect at time of casting only – changes in our stats after cast do not affect him. Because he is not considered a party member, he gets none of our buffs himself, but does benefit from debuffs on a target (specifically: magical damage taken, spell crit chance and general crit chance).
Survival: Immune to all fire-school damage. Gets a passive 90% reduction to all AoE effect damage and cannot be targeted by any RSTS effects which ignore pets. Will NOT benefit from group heal affects which only target party members as he is not considered a member of the party/raid. Will be destroyed if his totem is destroyed or replaced by another.
Control: The Fire Friend is not a paragon of order. He has a mind of his own and will wander off to attack anything within his range as and when he feels like it. This may or may not result in him standing around doing nothing (other than, well, burning) while you’re attacking something. Generally if something aggressive wanders within his “aggro radius” he will attack it, and generally if the shaman is attacking something nearby (or something is attacking the shaman) he will come to help.
Range: Tethered to the totem that spawns him, the Fire Friend will travel up to about 40 yards to attack a target he has picked. His actual “aggro radius” seems to be rather smaller, perhaps about 20 yards.
When to use
The Fire Friend is our most powerful single-target fire DPS totem, and is also very strong in AoE situations. However, his AoE is unreliable and if the targets are spread out at all, he may end up attacking the wrong ones.
It’s best to drop the Fire Elemental at times when a target is going to be in range for the full 2 minute duration and when it doesn’t matter what target he attacks. Sooner is always better because of his long cooldown, but if there is an important burn phase it can be wise to save him until then.
Why to use
The Fire Elemental totem is our single biggest DPS cooldown after Heroism/Bloodlust. Against a single target in Icecrown gear, it will normally do between 1.2 and 1.6k DPS for the 2 minutes it’s active, which for a five minute fight works out as 5-600 extra DPS for the shaman who uses it. And his long duration means that we lose less personal DPS to drop him than we do using other fire totems.
How to use
- It’s important to drop the totem in range of the target you want the Elemental to attack – preferably close enough for a Fire Nova to hit – but also with sufficient room that the tethered elemental can follow the target wherever it might move to.
- Do NOT drop it too soon, or it may pull aggro before the tank gets a hit in and die, costing you a 10-minute cooldown for nothing.
- Do NOT delay using it unnecessarily. If it’s off cooldown, use it as soon as possible unless there’s a reason not to. The sooner you use it, the sooner you can use it again.
- If you’re relying on a second Elemental Shaman to supply Totem of Wrath, consider tag-teaming your Fire Elementals; when one expires, have the shaman who dropped it switch to ToW while you use your Elemental. Two Fire Friends one after the other are more DPS than a Fire Friend followed by a searing totem.
- Consider using a /focus Greater Fire Elemental macro to focus-target your buddy when he comes out so that you can heal him if he gets into trouble. He won’t be affected by any of your raid’s heals whatsoever so can be quite vulnerable if he ends up standing in purple fire for too long.
- Make absolutely sure you have more than 2 minutes left on your Glyph of Totem of Wrath buff before you send this guy out, or you’ll be prevented from refreshing the buff without killing him prematurely.
Glyph of Fire Elemental
The glyph reduces the cooldown of the totem by 5 minutes. There are two situations in which this is useful: firstly, if a fight lasts long enough for you to drop the totem a second time with the glyph but only once without it; secondly, if you are burning through boss attempts so fast that you can otherwise only use your FE every second or third attempt. In all other situations the glyph is a waste of space.
2. Searing Totem
The first DPS totem we get back at level 10, and seemingly rather unexciting while levelling – but at level 80 and in a raid situation, this dude is a DPS powerhouse. A very small house, and rather low power… but still.
Duration: 60 seconds
No. of targets: The Searing Totem is limited to a single target, and it spends all its time casting a spell called “Attack” which takes 2.2 seconds to cast. However in reality its casts occur more like every 2.5 seconds.
Stats: Searing Totem benefits from our full Spellpower, Hit rating, Crit chance and damage buffs and also benefits from all applicable target debuffs. Our only primary stat which doesn’t affect it is Haste. It also benefits from our Call of Flame talent (which the Fire Elemental doesn’t). Unlike Fire Elemental Totem, Searing’s benefit from our stats updates in real-time.
Survival: A regular 5-health totem, immune to almost all AoE and RSTS. However, nearby mobs will still sometimes turn around and whack it dead, and some bosses are (wrongly?) tuned to target totems with their various touch-of-nastiness type spells. As the totem has no cooldown, losing it is merely an annoyance rather than a serious problem.
Control: Like the Fire Friend, this guy has his own AI and will attack anything he decides to. Usually that decision is based on the same sort of factors as the Fire Friend’s – is a target in range, is it hostile, is it in combat with the shaman? – but not always.
Range: It can hit targets up to 20 yards away and no more.
When to use
If there’s a single target to hit or if you can’t get close enough to multiple targets to use Magma Totem, Searing is your guy (and I mean that in a strictly non-Prison Movie sense).
Why to use
Searing Totem’s big advantages over Magma Totem are duration and range: his longer duration means that you spend less time casting him instead of DPSing, and his longer range means that you spend less time travelling or in range of Nasty Stuff to set him down. A well-used Searing Totem can grant upwards of 500 DPS to a well-geared Elemental Shaman.
How to use
- Any time you’re free to drop a fire DPS totem and there’s a target that’s going to live for more than 30 seconds or so, set this fella down. You won’t regret it.
- There’s no benefit to re-casting Searing Totem during high spellpower/crit procs because its damage updates based on our stats in real-time. It’ll benefit from any procs you gain while they’re active, then go back to normal afterwards, without you doing anything.
- The range on this totem’s attacks is only 20 yards. Ideally you want to be standing no more than 20 yards away from what you want it to hit so that you don’t waste time moving into position every 60 seconds. However, if you absolutely have to stand more than 20 yards away, consider timing your totem redrops with Flame Shock refreshes or Glyph of Totem of Wrath rebuffs while you move – that way you’re losing as little DPS as possible while you run around.
- Similarly, if you have to move anyway, it’s a great time to re-drop Searing Totem so long as you are moving within 20 yards of the target. For example, Sindragosa‘s Icy Grip is a perfect opportunity to land a Searing Totem in a great position without costing yourself any DPS to do so.
3. Magma Totem
Magma Totem was seriously buffed as a part of our overall AoE tweaking a while back, and is now a pretty amazing AoE DPS tool – we can drop it and forget it while it does its thing and we do ours. However its short duration mitigates its usefulness.
Duration: 20 seconds
No. of targets: Magma pulses every 2 seconds to hit all targets within 8 yards. Pure AoE baby!
Stats: Like Searing Totem, Magma benefits from our full Spellpower, Hit rating, Crit chance and damage buffs and also benefits from all applicable target debuffs. Our only primary stat which doesn’t affect it is Haste. It also benefits from our Call of Flame talent.
Survival: Same as Searing Totem: a regular 5-health totem, immune to almost all AoE and RSTS. Somewhat more vulnerable to random mobs attacking it as it has to be almost in melee range to be effective and is more likely to aggro freshly-spawned creatures because of its constant pulsing.
Control: Unlike searing and fire elemental totems, this thing just sits where it’s placed and pulses a constant stream of AoE. Anything in 8 yards will get hit, and anything further away won’t.
Range: 8 yards, still.
When to use
Although its DPS against a single target is actually higher than Searing’s for most gear levels, the extra time we have to spend dropping it combined with its vastly smaller range make it a bad choice for a single target. That is to say, because we have to drop it 3 times (and potentially run back and forth into and out of range at the same time) when we’d only be dropping Searing Totem once, it actually does less extra DPS than Searing would against most single target situations.
However where this totem shines is in AoE situations. It does better and more consistent AoE damage than the Fire Elemental (though less overall damage), and benefits from our ability to place it precisely where the mobs we want to hit are. Combined with our own Fire Nova and Chain Lighting Spells, the Magma Totem allows us to do pretty insane amounts of AoE damage.
Why to use
Maxx AoE damages, pure and simple. It does about 700 DPS per target present, not counting the time taken to drop it.
How to use
- Magma Totem’s main restrictions are its short duration and short range. Therefore we want to minimise the impact of these limitations when we use it, picking our timing carefully and making sure to position as efficiently as possible.
- If mobs are moving around constantly, forget using this. Just drop a Searing totem or Fire Elemental instead, as the time you spend running around dropping new Magma Totems will cost you too much DPS.
- Similarly, if DPS on a single target is more important than DPS on adds, or if the adds are short lived, don’t bother with this totem. Sure it may pad your damage meter performance, but it will actually hinder the group by reducing your damage on targets that actually matter.
So let’s review what we’ve talked about, as well as some things we haven’t.
Stats: our fire totems all benefit from our spellpower, hit and intellect; searing and magma also benefit from our crit. Haste does not have any effect on our fire totems; however, it’s still generally worth far more than crit even when using fire totems to DPS because the amount of our total DPS which comes from fire totems is so small.
Control: the only totem we can really control is Magma Totem. Learning how to control the other two can take a bit of practice.
Placement: every single one of our fire DPS totems takes a full second out of our cast time to drop, and possibly more for moving to where we want them dropped. Learning to minimize the time we “waste” on dropping fire totems is key to using them effectively.
Theorycraft: presently both SimulationCraft and ZAP! model fire totems to various extents, and can tell you more about their effect on your stat weightings and DPS – especially its effect on the relationship between crit and haste.
Glyph of Totem of Wrath: ironically, because it boosts our spellpower, this benefits us even more than usual if we use fire DPS totems. All we have to do is make sure that at some point every 5 minutes we drop Totem of Wrath. Naturally the best time to do this is while moving, but remember that after dropping ToW we have to re-drop whatever fire DPS totem we were using. (Remember that the buff persists no matter what fire totem we swap to after dropping ToW!)
Using fire totems when we can is a simple and generally reliable way to generate valuable extra DPS that’s quite forgiving on learners and yet offers a lot of room for min/maxing for the hardcore. (Also as Jeeru points out in the comments, fire totem damage doesn’t contribute to our threat.)
Bear in mind that theorycraft will usually present a “best-case” scenario for fire totem use, whereas in reality some fights simply don’t entirely suit our fire totems’ mechanics. For example, a fire elemental can end up gathering and killing the important shadowy orb things on Blood Prince Council, and a searing totem won’t help DPS oozes or slimes on Professor Putricide.
If you’re a long-time user of fire DPS totems yourself and have any tips or tricks to share, please do! Similarly if you want to know more about fire DPS totems or have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments.