Elemental, Opinion, Shaman, WoW

Elemental shaman preview review

The very first Cataclysm Class Preview is our preview, posted by Nethaera a little earlier today, and already commented upon by pewter (and doubtless soon many others!).  I’m just gonna talk about my thoughts and feelings on the elemental side of what’s been announced, assuming everyone’s already familiar with the details themselves and leaving the restoration stuff to other people and/or another post.  So no theory, no maths, just delicious, succulent waffles here.


A lot’s been done to improve shaman levelling in the past couple of years, but it’s still a little less than ideal as so many of both Elemental and Enhancement’s core abilities and/or talents come so late.  So I’m glad that there’s mention of a new spell specifically to help lowbie enhancement shamans.  But what about elemental?  Well, my take on this is that the combination of Mastery, fewer “boring” talents and an entirely revamped lowbie gear environment will sort out the remaining problems suffered by elemental – most of which are, I think, basically gear related.  Well, all remaining problems except for the fact that we basically use one spell from level 1 through to level 75 – there’s no sign that they’re lowering the level at which Lava Burst becomes available.

Spell choice


Which brings me neatly onto this issue of spell choice.  Presently elemental tends to be derided by some as an “easy” spec because our basic rotation seems so simple and foolproof.  Even some pretty good “advanced” elementals in top-end guilds give this impression, which I think is unfortunate… because the difference between a “good” elemental shaman and a “bad” elemental shaman is at least as extreme as for any other DPS class, quite possibly more.  There is already a lot of room for skill, experience and general mastery of the class even with our simple rotation, and a quick perusal of World of Logs reports would show this to be true.

(Please bear in mind at this point that I am someone who has played a kitty druid, shadowpriest, and arcane mage in the WotLK endgame, so I’m familiar with some very different styles of play and levels of “complexity” in “rotations”.)

Simplicity has, in fact, been a hallmark of elemental since its inception.  Basically it’s been all about Lightning.  This has been justifiable, I think, because with our totem usage, our capacity to perform multiple utility functions at once (such as snatch-healing, kiting, interrupting, grounding, cleansing, snaring, rooting, managing one of the most important raiding cooldowns there is, et cetera), our utter dependence on being in precisely the right place at the right time for our utility spells to work and no fast way of getting there, the elemental shaman has needed the simplicity in rotation to allow room for the complexity of the class as a whole.  Elemental has filled this niche in a way that the other specs haven’t: with its boss-in-face positioning, small mana pool and lack of utility talents, enhance tends to be consigned to pure DPS, and restoration is likewise too focused on keeping health bars in the green to employ much of the class’ innate utility and strength in most situations.

In my mind, this has left elemental as the de-facto shaman utility spec, with the combination of a few key talents (Elemental Reach, Storm, Earth and Fire, Booming Echoes and Thunderstorm), our at-range wide-perspective positioning, our surprisingly strong shield-and-mail armor and the fact that we always gear to the hit cap leaving us in the perfect position to do “odd” jobs for a group.

So no, I don’t think elemental needs a lot more complexity to its rotation.  Managing hasted Flame Shocks with Lava Burst cooldowns is quite enough, thank you.  With that in mind, the addition of Unleash Weapon seems to be a welcome way to spice up our spell choice without adding too much brain strain.

Lava Burst

What I am genuinely surprised by is that there was no mention of any change to Lava Burst‘s mechanics.  The guaranteed critical strike the spell produces has caused headaches with both crit and haste scaling for elemental, confused a legion of new players trying to figure out what they should do if Lava Burst is on cooldown for less time than Lightning Bolt takes to cast, and been a PvP balance nightmare.

For me those first two issues are actually pretty serious and I’d really like to see them dealt with.  I don’t suppose it’d be too hard to make Lava Burst continue to be a fun spell that’s worth casting while removing its 100%-crit-chance thing.  The predicted interaction between this, the new Elemental Overload Mastery effect and Unleash Weapon sounds like a recipe for PvP disaster, but I guess with higher health pools and whatnot burst will be less of an issue.

I do like the idea of overload affecting all our damage spells – that’s cool.


Earthquake!  Well!  Have any of us played Warcraft III and not wanted this awesome spell in our arsenal?  Our AoE is already pretty strong with Magma Totem and Fire Nova and our “ranged cleave” is second to none.  Earthquake promises to be sustained, targetable and usable at range, which would add a very welcome flexibility if our present totem mechanics remain as they are.  Even if it’s not a very powerful spell in itself, it would be freakin’ cool.

Fire totems

Which is an open question, seeing as they’re “considering” letting us cast Searing Totem from range.  This could mean increasing the range of the totem’s attack, or it could mean some kind of remote totem placement which could conceivably extend to all our totems.  Using Searing at range is definitely something we should want to see, as our bizarre niche as the melee-range caster is not really very raid-friendly and sort of works against that complexity stuff I was talking about above.

Of course the really big revelation here – which doesn’t come as a surprise so much as it comes as a relief – is the planned overhaul of Totem of Wrath/Flametongue Totem.  Scaling issues?  Fixed – it’s going to be a percentage increase in spellpower rather than a flat value.  Locking us out of fire DPS totems?  Fixed – Elemental will be able to talent into getting the effect from any fire totem.  Competition with Demonic Pact?  Presumably fixed – I’d imagine DP would provide the same 10% bonus that our new Totems of Wrath will.


The DPS-while-moving cooldown will be as useful as the developers allow it to be.  If there are boss fights requiring us to move for 10 seconds every 2 minutes, it’ll be great.  If not, it won’t be.  Either way it’ll be a nice addition to our range of utility options.  Unlike some folk, I don’t think elemental is penalised that much for moving – if anything, we have it easier than most casters, especially if we’re using fire totems (this is offset by the need to redrop totems in new positions and the need to potentially drop our fire DPS totems in odd places requiring extra movement that other casters don’t have to worry about).  So to me this is one of those “oh, neat” things rather than an “AT LAST!” thing.

No mention of Elemental Mastery?  Sorry Blizzard, but I think its current incarnation is weak and boring – unlike Icy Veins’ effect on those big slow mage spells, we don’t really notice a meagre 15% spell haste increase all that much – especially when we’re used to heroism’s big beefy 30%.  I’d love to see it given some love and made more interesting.

The fact that no mention is made of Thunderstorm leaves me hoping it’ll remain largely unchanged.  I have to confess that I really like its current incarnation.


Spell damage and crit are perfect for us.  Yes, I know crit is one of our weaker DPS stats, but the alternative – that our already short spellcasts get shorter and shorter as we spend more talent points – is not very appealing, and would create problems for scaling with haste on gear and particularly with the usefulness of big cooldowns like Heroism.  However we do expect to see lower overall haste levels in Cataclysm due to less gear ilevel inflation.

It’s also possible that the “crit” reference means “size of crits” rather than “likelihood to crit”, which would mean it replaces or augments talents like Elemental Fury rather than Call of Thunder.

Turning Lightning Overload into something that affects all our spells and is passive to the tree is unexpected and cool.  I wonder if we’ll still get any talents specifically boosting it?  It’s long been one of our signature effects and most fun passive abilities – my guildies call it the MOAR LIGHNING!!1 talent.

Spirit-to-hit conversion we already knew about, and I think it’s a fairly elegant way of handling the caster mail issue.  Let’s just hope that haste and crit are a bit closer in their relative values for both caster specs in Cataclysm.

Cleansing changes

I don’t want to talk about this at length here and it wasn’t technically part of the class preview.  But I will mention that my feelings are basically very simple if a little contradictory:

  • I’m pleased at the direction the dispel game seems to be heading in.
  • I’m very sad indeed to be losing the ability to cleanse poisons and diseases.

The latter is mostly a flavour issue more than anything else, but curing toxins is a deeply inbuilt part of who or what shamans are right now.  Cleansing totem has been, frankly, a bit overpowered for most of WoW’s life and seeing it disappear entirely isn’t really surprising.  I recognise the potential of the changes to the dispel game so, assuming Blizzard get it right (and they’ve got a pretty good record!), I’m totally prepared to welcome the change and look forward to more fun, interesting encounters as a result – and, hopefully, more flexibility in the 10-man raid team combined with safeguarding against “mechanics decay” when scaling down from 25-player design.  (e.g. Noth-10 vs. Noth-25 – the curse goes from being crucial to cleanse in 25-mode to being merely beneficial to cleanse in 10-mode, because Blizzard could not reasonably expect every 10-man raid team to have a decurser (caster druid, mage or resto shaman).  Contrast Lich King 10 with Lich King 25, where you must have someone able to remove diseases in the raid even for the 10-player format or you are utterly screwed.)

Concluding thoughts

Overall my primary impression is relief, because there doesn’t seem to be anything hinted at which risks changing the class to the point where I might stop loving it so much.  I was (and, to a degree, will remain) rather concerned about this after seeing BM hunters, shadow priests, affliction warlocks and feral druids become – to me personally – unrecognisable upon certain expansion transitions.

What’s more, some of our biggest concerns are being addressed or, at least, acknowledged again – which is very encouraging.

I’m just really confused that no mention has been made of Lava Burst.  OK sure, it’s a lot better now than it used to be, but it’s still basically a Problem in my mind.  With PvP health pools getting bigger we can hope that its burstyness will no longer be a concern, giving more room for tweaking the spell in PvE – but I’d really really like to see the automatic crit thing disappear, or at least to see the spell benefit from crit in some way.  After all, a third of our mastery bonus is going to go towards “crit” – if that’s “chance to crit” rather than “size of crit” (which I realise is by no means a safe assumption) then it’d be silly to leave out Lava Burst.

So that’s where I am right now.  What about you folks?  What do you make of all this – what are your first impressions, gut feelings, things you’re looking forward to or things you’re dreading?  Am I right to be worried about Lava Burst?

IMPORTANT UPDATE: What, no more sentry totem?!?! NOOOOOOOOOOOO



30 thoughts on “Elemental shaman preview review

  1. Just one thing:

    “It’s also possible that the “crit” reference means “size of crits” rather than “likelihood to crit”, which would mean it replaces or augments talents like Elemental Fury rather than Call of Thunder.”

    Warlocks have both “Spell Crit” (=what shamans.. shamen get) and “Spell Critical Damage” as seperate Masteries, so yours is very likely crit chance!

    Posted by Razz | April 7, 2010, 9:56 pm
  2. LvB was mentioned in the Q&A, where they talk about adjusting every number in game ever. It boggles the brain.

    Posted by pewter | April 7, 2010, 10:19 pm
  3. The told the locks that haste no longer reduces the duration of dots (but still increases the tic rate) and recasting no longer clips the end of the tic just resets the duration, it the hasted FS/LB cd issue should hopefully be dealt with.

    Posted by Ateve | April 7, 2010, 10:35 pm
    • Yes, this idea of DoTs never being “clipped” but instead always extending their durations when recast – and ticks happening faster with haste but the duration remaining the same – is very exciting if it does apply to Elemental. It would give us much, much more freedom and grace with Flame Shock timing and use as well as eliminating one of Lava Burst’s Big Problems.

      It’d also give us basically no reason to cast any shock other than Flame Shock while moving, which is sort of a shame.

      Posted by Charles | April 8, 2010, 8:24 pm
  4. The only big thing that they’re missing is semi-controllable Fire Elemental and Searing Totems. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I summon Searing Totem, and instead of it attacking the boss, it attacks an add that would have gotten cleaved down anyway. –Or when I do summon a Searing Totem, and it just stands there, inside of the boss’ mouth, and doesn’t attack it! I, of course, resummon Searing at that point, and–despite the fact that the new one is not closer to the boss than the last one was, it will miraculously attack the boss just fine.

    But yeah, this is looking promising. Except for the part where the developer claimed that Magma Totem is better single target DPS than Searing Totem; a glaring example of their ignorance about the math.

    Posted by Bergg | April 8, 2010, 4:08 am
    • Well, in the Q&A they do mention a mechanic that will automatically place the next totem you summon at the feet of your target, which would go a long way to eliminating totem grief I think 😉

      Posted by pewter | April 8, 2010, 9:36 am
    • I do find this frustrating, especially when I carefully place a Searing Totem, run out of range and then realise it’s… not… attacking… sigh. But this is not just a problem with our totems – all temporary “guardians” without pet bars suffer similar issues. So a fix would be lovely for more than just us elementals.

      Magma Totem: it is technically higher DPS on a single target than searing, but this is offset by the need to recast it every 20 seconds (and possibly having to move to do so). It’s for that reason that Searing Totem works out as higher overall DPS. This is one of those cases where the game is a bit counter-intuitive, and fixing it would be welcome.

      Posted by Charles | April 8, 2010, 8:28 pm
  5. I would really like to see something new in our rotation. Im tierd of the same old LB spam so im quite interested in this “Unleash weapon” thing. Depending on its cooldown it might be sweet to use while moving and get an additional 20% on the next LvB once u stop moving.That, and refreshing searing totem every minute is a welcome addition.

    Its gonna be interesting to see how Earthquake will work, if it will be channeled or work like DnD.

    Posted by Kosin | April 8, 2010, 5:51 am
  6. Where are the totem mechanic changes? This doesn’t help the whole problem that totems are still inferior to regular buffs (must be in range, require in combat mana, burns GCD). I admit the new totem bar helps things immensely but even the Devs admitted it was only a bandaid fix, I was really hoping they’d look at totems again.

    Posted by Billy | April 8, 2010, 6:16 am
    • The mana thing, while not the main thrust of your question, is interesting. At present elemental shamans are the only mana using DPS that don’t have a way to restore significant amounts of mana on demand. This is OK at present because we have excessively good mana efficiency on a single target, and because we don’t get much change to unleash our full AoE potential for extended periods of time.

      It’s a stated goal of the Cataclysm model to remove mana management as a serious concern from DPS classes/specs (with possible specific exceptions e.g. arcane mages), so it will be interesting to see how that pans out.

      Totems themselves I am largely OK with ever since the totem bar was introduced. So long as we have options for totems that can’t be filled by other classes (e.g. wrath of air, talented SoE, grounding, earthbind etc.) I’m content that the present model remain – IF encounters are designed sensibly. I actually find totems a lot of fun as they are, and the sheer diversity of buffs we can choose from tops pretty much any other class anyway.

      (Though admittedly that has contributed to the “really valuable in 5s/10s, not so valuable in 25s” phenomenon.)

      Posted by Charles | April 8, 2010, 8:34 pm
  7. Great post mate! I don’t agree with absolutely everything you said, but you’ve definitely become the premier source of info for the ele community. Keep it up 🙂

    Posted by Blublub | April 8, 2010, 8:27 am
  8. If Lava Burst had something like a mage’s Ignite if Flame Shock was up instead of making it a guaranteed crit, you’d do a few things:
    – Maintain the relationship between Flame Shock and Lava Burst, making for nice big LvBs.
    – Reduce burst damage while maintaining sustained damage.
    – Allow LvB to benefit from crit.

    Like, imagine if LvB-with-FS put a 50% damage done over 6 secs debuff on the target. An Elemental Overloaded LvB would basically bump up the LvB DoT stack, like Ignite.

    La la la I’m just dreaming.

    Posted by Lorghar | April 8, 2010, 12:43 pm
    • Aye, there are plenty of ways they could make Lava Burst interact cleverly with Flame Shock without making it an auto crit, and you’ve very clearly demonstrated one such option. I also think that an ignite-style DoT makes a lot of sense for a fire spell hitting while the target is already on fire 😎

      Plus it’d be fun!

      Posted by Charles | April 8, 2010, 8:36 pm
  9. While I think the changes are pretty good overall, I can’t help that one of our new core abilities came about like this:

    Shaman: We need a new exciting mechanic for the shaman class. Totems have been around forever. We need something else that people will think “SHAMAN”.
    Paladin: I’ve been levelling a shaman lately and was thinking that it would be cool if there was some way to get a little extra out of our weapon imbues. Something like “Unleash Weapon”.
    Shaman: Unleash Weapon! I love it! Imagine that. More fire damage if using Flametongue. Throwing your weapon if using Windfury. Extra healing if using Earthliving. This is great!
    Paladin: What about Frostbrand?
    Shaman: Didn’t we take that out of the game yet?
    Paladin: Nope.
    Shaman: I guess we’ll find something to do with it. Let’s wait for the community to think of something cool for it.
    Community: Hold on! Did you just give us Judgement mechanics?
    Maker: If we’re now the mail paladins, I want to be able to cast Astral Recall while in combat. Maybe from within a sphere of solid stone.

    Sorry for the morning cynicism. I don’t think many people have really noticed that yet. While I realize there’s only so much unique stuff they can do, but couldn’t they think of something else?

    With respect to the spirit to hit conversion, I suspect that’ll be a talent that we’ll tweak based on the gear we have. Eg: 1/3 instead of 3/3 if our higher end gear is overflowing with it. Then we can spec into more beneficial talents. Then again the talent could also be so underwhelming that there’s no point in speccing more than 1 into it because other talents are that much more useful. At the very least, it’ll give us a reason to respec from time to time. I haven’t changed my spec in months.

    Posted by Maker | April 8, 2010, 1:09 pm
    • Actually that ‘they’re just judgements’ comment sparked off an early ‘omg we will have to recast our imbue qq lost globalcooldowns’ minor panic somewhere. Or at least enough of one for Blizz to point out that the Unleash won’t consume the weapon imbue.

      I love the totem update, but Unleash Weapon, SW Grace and Earthquake don’t feel like a major change to the way we play. That said a lot of shamans will no longer saddled with ToW anymore, so for shamans dedicated to 10 mans this gives them something else to do.

      Posted by pewter | April 8, 2010, 3:16 pm
      • The fire totem changes are spectacular. We don’t always have a demo lock in our raid and thus the raid begrudgingly foregoes my Wrath for the resto shaman’s flametongue. (The damage difference between myself and the other casters is so great that they don’t even think about asking for it.)

        I naturally presumed that weapon imbue would not be consumed, otherwise, the system wouldn’t even be worth using. It’s still not the most imaginative addition to our spell book.

        I hope that deep elemental will pick up the ability to control what our totems attack, or at the very least the AI will be improved enough so that they don’t randomly target the wrong things.

        For now this is merely speculation. I’ll wait for the Beta leaks in the coming months.

        Posted by Maker | April 8, 2010, 3:41 pm
      • I don’t mind the similarity to judgements. I missed out on the vanilla/TBC paladin model, but from an elemental perspective Unleash sounds different enough from judgements that I’m fine with them being broadly similar ideas. To me the flavour of the class is kept intact, and it’s potentially a fun and useful new spell, so yay!

        Earthquake will be as big as they want it to be. Currently our AoE can be *very* strong, but it requires us to be very clever with our movement, target selection, spell choice and timing. A beefy targeted, ranged AoE would be very… odd, but would definitely have a niche.

        Quoted from Maker for emphasis:

        We need a new exciting mechanic for the shaman class. Totems have been around forever. We need something else that people will think “SHAMAN”.

        This is exactly how I’ve felt about elemental for a good while, at least before 3.3.3. Like we need focus, direction, something that makes us us. That used to be lightning, and now it’s a bit confused with all the lava and melee range nonsense and whatnot. While I don’t see anything specifically ELEMENTAL!!! about the preview, it does seem that the spec is in fact going in a clearer, smoother direction. The new spells, the improved totem mechanics, even the hilarious “cast while moving” cooldown all help to carve us a particularly elemental-shaped nook in the game that I am very pleased to anticipate.

        Posted by Charles | April 8, 2010, 8:41 pm
  10. I really did like the changes, even tho they’re minor ones.
    While i like the mastery bonuses, i’m still afraid it can take some (maybe 85 +gear) to reach the 33% Overload value we have atm, wich can feel a little awkward while leveing, Other than that it looks awesome. They don’t mention wich spells will be included in that, but i would be happy with double Thuderstorms =)
    Fire totems fix is perfect. But still, i’d love to see more spells like Fire nova. The idea of totem placing strategy is one i find cool, and having spells coming out of them (maybe coming out of all four !!!1!) is something i’d like to see more

    Posted by Hexlol | April 8, 2010, 2:52 pm
    • The Q&A actually said that Lightning Overload will remain as a talent, which gives a bonus to Elemental Overload. So hopefully we’ll see at least the old 20% levels of MOAR LIGHTNING!!1 pre-85 🙂

      Fire Nova-esque spells for our other elemental totems would be cool, but hard to conceive. Healing Rain would make a lot of sense if it rained around the shaman’s water totem, for example. But while fun ideas, I think it’d be hard to carve out four different, useful, totem-centred, elementally-based spells.

      Posted by Charles | April 8, 2010, 8:44 pm
  11. OT Question:

    My ele is in full t10 with regular reign and DFO.
    Should I be looking at getting dual DFO? What’s the best endgame trinket setup? I passed on H DFO last night bc if I equipped reg and H I’d be at 1440 haste WITHOUT totem proccd. Advice? I have access to pretty much everything.

    Posted by Et | April 8, 2010, 5:17 pm
  12. Really hope Earthquake and targeted Searing make it to final version of Cataclysm. Would like to have seen Improved Ghost Wolf (that works indoors) without talent points to resolve our mobility issues.

    Love the website, great info keep it up!

    Posted by Nayaga | April 8, 2010, 7:31 pm
    • Thanks for your kind comment 🙂 I’m afraid I’ve slacked a bit recently with keeping old guides updated as well as writing new ones. But partly I’ve been able to slack because of other elemental shamans starting up their own excellent guides/information resources, as well as by the return of the EJ TTT. So all in all that’s pretty great – just be sure to check out the other elemental links 😉

      Posted by Charles | April 8, 2010, 8:46 pm
  13. Well hopefully this isn’t the end of the preview. I agree that the “direction” of the class has gotten pretty fuzzy. The feel of our totems has declined as buffs have spread out amongst the classes.

    I’m not QQing about it, I think it’s good for the game overall making development easier in regards to 10 man raids, and especially with the emphasis shifting to more large scale pvp (BGs).

    I’m hoping the talent tree revamp will be a solid one. I’m really hoping we gain a few more selfish tools distributed into the trees. It will help define the class/spec better and hopefully introduce more interesting things much like the Unleashed Weapon mechanic.

    Posted by Jeeru | April 13, 2010, 3:24 pm
  14. I still don’t share your opinion that Demonic Pact is going to be “less than” the Totem of Wrath.

    From what I read, they’re not decreasing the potency of either one. They still sound about the same.

    Granted, I may not have understood things, from reading what I read on the warlock side of the blue posts.

    That was just what I took away from it.

    Posted by Ushapti | April 13, 2010, 10:33 pm
    • Hm, who are you quoting? I’m pretty sure from what’s been said that DP and ToW are going to be precisely equal in Cataclysm – they’ll both provide a 10% buff to the recipient’s spell power.

      Posted by Charles | April 13, 2010, 10:56 pm


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