Sunday, August 26, 2007

Totem Talk: Hi, I'm a Shaman. Take me to your instance.

Totem Talk is the column for Shaman players. Matthew Rossi plays a Shaman. It's like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup except with less peanut butter and chocolate and more talking about Shaman issues. According to WoWwiki, the correct plural of Shaman is Shamans. This seems weird to me, but I guess they should know, they're a Wiki.

Well, we could spend a lot of time messing about, but this week we have already seen that Shamans have issues. The comment thread this generated is very long and very rancorous. To be honest, that's the way the Shaman forums gets sometimes, too. Being the proud papa of two shammies, a level 70 resto on the Horde side and a level 44 enhancement on Alliance, I feel like I should say that I really love the class. It's fun and engaging. I leveled as Elemental to 50, Enhancement from 50 to 70, and specced Restoration for my guild, which of course means that the only mail that drops is Enhancement or Elemental. My healing kit? Way too many Elemental pieces I've socketed to try and make up the difference. But ultimately, I love my Shamans and I love playing them.

And yes, the angry Shaman players are right. There are problems with the Shaman.

Part of the problem is scalability. We all remember back before The Burning Crusade launched when a properly geared and specced Enhancement shaman could rip people's faces off. Hell, I used to take my warrior into BG's and get Windfury-laden Sulfuras shots that would annihilate me. I remember the resentment folks Alliance side felt about Shamans.

That time is long past. Between 60 and 70, shaman don't scale as well as the other classes. Gear can make up some of this difference... I defy you to fight an Elemental shaman in full T5 and say he doesn't do significant damage... but especially for the Enhancement tree, the DPS you can put out just doesn't scale with the stamina on items out there. A properly geared shaman with a good set of weapons (most seem to like slow main hands, trying to get around the hidden three second cooldown on Windfury) can still do really nice burst damage, but it's hardly as overwhelming as it once seemed. When I was enhance I preferred a 2h, to be honest, as it's much easier to find a 2h weapon that will be slow enough to avoid the 3 second cooldown and its damage draining effect. But dual wield is still most likely superior for enhance DPS.

Elemental is still the best sustained damage tree for a shaman, but it is also the most likely to run out of mana, especially with recent changes to Elemental Focus. I understand that people were using Rank 1 lightning bolts to proc their clearcasting state and then popping out their biggest damage spells while they were free... but to be honest, I don't get why that was a problem. Still, much less likely to happen now.

In the end you have two trees that aren't as desirable and take more skill and gear to perform well and one tree that gets instance invites. I'm sure there are Enhancement and Elemental shamans out there who are getting into PuG's, or being brought on runs by smart guildies who enjoy the combination of shaman abilities and the powerful buffs of their totems. In PvP, a resto shaman can make him or herself practically unkillable by certain players with the right totems and studious application of Earth Shield. I've personally killed warriors by just dropping Searing Totem, Healing Stream and throwing Earth Shield on myself over and over again, but it's a long, slow grind and it counts on him not getting any help, not getting a few good crits in a row with Mortal Strike to cut my healing in half, and most of all not killing my totems over and over again with area effect attacks like Whirlwind. (He would have to target the totem, hit WW and then switch back to me, but that's not especially hard to do.) Elemental might well be the best PvP spec for shamans, I wouldn't know because I haven't had the gear to really try it out, but Enhancement is definitely not. So what does that leave the typical Enhancement shaman to do?

Instances. Enhancement shamans are trying to get an instance run, basically, and they're trying to do it by convincing groups that their buffing ability via totems is as good or better than bringing another DPSer who can sap, sheep, seduce, banish or trap, and who will probably be capable of significantly outdamaging the shaman without pulling aggro. (Rogues, Mages, Warlocks and Hunters all have aggro control far superior to a shaman, as well. Granted, warlock aggro control consists of having a specific pet out and managing Curse of Recklessness, Curse of Agony and Fear.) These are all problems Elemental shamans will face as well. A DPS class without aggro control and without crowd control needs something to counterbalance those deficits, and in the case of shamans the attraction is supposed to be buffs.

Why, then, doesn't it seem to be working? Why are shamans the least played class overall, less popular than paladins on Horde side, and by far the least played Alliance class? It's understandable to some extent on Alliance side, as only one race can play them there, but three out of five Horde races can play shamans and yet only druids, who are only playable by one race, are less represented there. And both shaman and druid are playable by one race in the Alliance, so that doesn't even hold true there. Is it just that it's a new class to them? If that were all, wouldn't paladins be as rare Horde side? This is clearly not the case.

To my mind, the real issue is totems. Totems provide the best buffs in the game, and four of them can be down at once, buffing strength, agility, healing or mana regen, granting windfury, flametongue, an AoE fire totem... totems are versatile and the hallmark of the class. But as so many have point out, totems are on the global cooldown, meaning that it takes valuable seconds to cast them. Totems are mana intensive, meaning that a shaman may have to stop and drink after dropping them. Totems are short duration, lasting at the most two minutes for the most part, and have no timer to tell the shaman when they will expire. Unless you keep an egg timer or a stopwatch handy, the first you'll know your mana spring totem is expiring is when it expires. Totems don't move, meaning that they have to be dropped within range of the players you intend to buff with them. Some of these factors are essential for shamans to retain their unique flavor... I don't think I'd want totems to float around me... but some are ridiculous holdovers from an earlier time that have been superseded by changes in the game. The duration of totems and their lack of timers? These need fixing. The inability to drop your totems quickly? Their ridiculously low health? How many other buffs can be purged off of an entire party with one well placed wand-shot? (This is, admittedly, more of a PvP issue.) At least the 20 minute cooldown elemental guardian totems have a little health.

To sum it up, shamans are not perfect, immortal gods who can one shot other players with impunity and who can wander through instances in full DPS gear while still slapping massive chain heals around left and right. I personally think that restoration spec is pretty darn good right now, and both Elemental and Enhancement, especially Enhance, need some love. We know some is coming, and it's welcome. To my mind, the shaman might well be the most interestingly diverse class in the game, and these problems aren't enough to justify people's aversion to it. With their buffing ability and versatility a few fixes should be all it takes to help make them a popular and viable hybrid.

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