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Cataclysm Final Grades: The State of the Elemental Shaman

February 25, 2012
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Today’s Final Grades post comes from another of my guildmates, Turion.  Turion is the guild’s Dragonwrath-weilder, a fellow officer, and our resident expert on elemental shaman.  When he’s not pew-pewing, Turion often helps out the guild by tanking on his paladin or healing on his druid.

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Hello, I’m Turion, and I play an Elemental Shaman. When Tzufit asked me if I wanted to contribute my opinions to this Cataclysm Final Grades series, I accepted in approximately 0.0002 seconds, give or take server latency. The challenge then became how to start, because Cataclysm was certainly a very eventful expansion for us.

During Wrath, prior to the Cataclysm patch, Elemental had a simple rotation, but suffered greatly from a lack of mobility, and did not scale as well as other casters. We were ideal when certain specialty jobs were called for, with Lava Burst’s guaranteed crit, a knockback, and an AoE root we could spec into, but as a DPS spec we were decidedly middle-to-back of the pack.

Farewell, Totem of Wrath – Buff Homogenization

In an effort to simplify raid composition, buffs provided by different classes and specs were consolidated and made more uniform. This had a tremendous impact for Elemental, because of Totemic Wrath. We no longer need to sacrifice personal DPS in order to drop a totem that increases group spell power, we can use Searing Totem and Greater Fire Elemental, or as I call him, the Greater Fiery Dumbass. This change alone provided a significant boost to our DPS, upwards of 10% of our total damage.

Elemental’s Mastery, Not To Be Confused with Elemental Mastery

The pre-expansion patch consolidated stats and introduced Mastery, the wildcard stat that was supposed to make you better at your spec. Elemental didn’t gain a brand new mechanic for its Mastery; if you were playing through Wrath, you remember Lightning Overload, and the effects are much the same, except Elemental Overload is better because Lava Burst can also overload. And it turned out to be a fairly good mastery. It scales well with gear, affects the spells that comprise the bulk of our rotation and it’s effective all the time, unlike Balance Druids’ Total Eclipse, which is effectively useless half the fight.

Rolling Thunder, Fulmination, and Shock Management

Instead of having to rely on Water Shield for mana regeneration as we did during Wrath, we now use Lightning Shield. Our Lightning Spells – along with their Overload procs after, if I am not mistaken, patch 4.1 – have a chance to build up Lightning Shield (LS) stacks, up to a maximum of 9 stacks. Casting Earth Shock will then deal damage for anything above 3 LS charges, and drop us back to 3. Because shocks all share the same cooldown, managing LS stacks becomes a critical skill, because we are forced to juggle the remaining Flame Shock duration, along with LS charges. You don’t want to Fulminate too soon and do less damage on a couple of charges than a Lightning Bolt would do; on the other hand, staying at 9 stacks means wasting potential DPS loss from wasted LS charges, and yet another hand, casting Earth Shock when Flame Shock is not on the target means not having a guaranteed Lava Burst – which is Bad -, or delaying Lava Burst – yes, you guessed right, that’s also Bad.

Good Flame Shock uptime and Shock cooldown management are extremely important factors in our damage, and make our priority list more dynamic than it was during Wrath.

Healing Rain

At level 83 we gained one of the new Cataclysm abilities, Healing Rain. As a healing spell, it’s mostly a Resto concern, but I have used it when I felt the situation called for it, especially if we are not actively damaging any mobs. Yes, it’s situational, but it also highlights the fact that we are a hybrid class.

Mobility Matters

At level 80 we were not very mobile casters. We could cast a shock (on a shared cooldown), Thunderstorm, re-drop totems, refresh a shield, or fire off one Elemental Mastery-powered spell. Not much in the way of casting on the move.

Then at level 81 we learned Unleash Elements, which I think was a well-implemented idea. It’s not an overly powerful ability, and it’s not spammable, but has a different effect for each weapon imbue, which makes it effectively unique for each spec. Equally as important for Elemental, it can be cast on the move. At level 85 we learned Spirit walker’s Grace, which allows us full casting-while-moving ability for 15 seconds every 2 – originally 3 – minutes. It’s a very good spell, but the original 3-minute cooldown made me hoard it, unless I knew a repeatable long-movement phase was coming, such as Atramedes’ air phase.

And then patch 4.2 hit, and introduced a fantastic quality-of-life improvement: the Glyph of Unleashed Lightning. Sure, it’s a prime glyph, but giving us the ability to spam Lightning Bolt while moving changed how we play. Running to a crystal on Morchok, running back from damaging an ooze on Yor’shaj, or moving to a Twilight Barrage? Keep firing away. I kept it for all but one fight in Firelands (Baleroc) and two fights in Dragon Soul (Ultraxion and Madness).

Of course, there was another reason why patch 4.2 was so good to us…

The Tier Sets, From Nice to Very Good With a Stop in Amazingville

Tier 11 had a couple of nice set bonuses. Extra crit on Flame Shock is always useful, as was the faster Lightning Bolt cast time from the 4-piece. It was, however, blown out of the water by the Tier 12 set. Just by maxing out your Valor Points for 4 weeks, or having some Baradin Hold luck, you could see a 3k DPS jump by having your own almost-permanent Greater Fiery Dumbass. It made Intellect and Spell power procs and on-use trinkets much better than static Intellect or Spell power items, if you could line them up with your Elemental. That it also made us rely on some of the dumbest AI in the game for a sizeable chunk of damage, and the 4-piece bonus made us even more mobile seemed to hardly matter. It was a set bonus so good that many in the community thought it would become a talent, as had been the case with previous bonuses. It was severely nerfed when patch 4.3 came out, or there would be no conceivable reason to wear 4 pieces of the T13 set.

The T13 set has some strong bonuses, which make the interplay between Haste and our Mastery even more apparent. With the 2-piece we gain 2000 mastery during Elemental Mastery, so not only do we get more haste and damage, but also more Overload procs. That’s a strong bonus. And then there’s the 4-piece, which grants Haste from our Overloads. So more Mastery means higher uptime on higher Haste, which makes the cooldown on Elemental Mastery shorter, which gives us a Mastery burst. The interaction between these two bonuses is well-implemented; they have a subtle effect on our “rotation”, while not completely changing our play style.

Wrapping up

If you read statistics, we’re still on the bottom of the pile as a DPS spec, but I think we’re in better shape now, from a playability perspective, than we were at any point during Wrath. There are more balls to keep in the air with our priority list, and we are much more able to handle movement fights. We could use a defensive cooldown, or some better scaling, but I still enjoy playing it, which is the ultimate test for me.

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