The Main Swap

Aka “Why Bink is going to raid on a Mage in Legion rather than his Elemental Shaman”

Part One: Damage Meters

For as long as I can remember Elemental output has been somewhat behind the curve pretty much all the time, unless you look at specific AoE or Cleave boss fights like Hellfire Assault or Iskar. The times where I do well comparatively to everyone else I keep wondering that had I been on a different class that is “more popular” would I have performed significantly better?

It’s also worth pointing out that shaving a third off the cooldown time for Ascendance so it would stack up with the Legendary Ring use (happened shortly after 6.2 went out on July 20th) didn’t do much to change the overall output that much as reviewing WarcraftLogs stats doesn’t show a major jump in DPS values around that date. Given that Ascendance is the “major” cooldown for Elemental in Warlords, you’d think that this change would have more of an impact.

I’ve had a few conversations with Guild Masters over recent years about main swapping for the good of the guild. This is mostly because I’ve felt that for me to perform similarly to others in the raid team requires me doing better than them because Elemental doesn’t seem to be as good as pretty much any other ranged DPS spec.

Part Two: Utility

aka “Things Which Counter Raid Mechanics or Guarantee Me A Raid Spot”

One of those “for the good of the guild” things I mentioned was the fact that Elemental doesn’t really have much in the way of useful raid stuff anymore (and doesn’t seem to in Legion, but we’ll get to that later). In Siege of Orgrimmar we’d have myself and a Shadow Priest stack our Damage -> Healing cooldowns to help out in a few boss fights but these abilities were understandably nerfed. There isn’t an Elemental version of Ice Block, Deterrence or Demonic Gateway to help avoid or negate raid mechanics, so being an Elemental in a raid is one less chance to avoid dealing with a specific mechanic.

Part Three: Legion Design

For the most part the design changes in Legion are good. However, the initial approach to having the Artifact Weapon (The Fist of Ra-Den) has caused some flow-on issues, most notably the fact that it’s focusing a lot on Nature damage rather than overall damage that you’d see from other casters. The core issue here is Elemental has a primarily cooldown based rotation vs the build & spend models for Balance or Shadow, which means that the more powerful the “filler” spells get the weaker the cooldown abilities become by comparison. This is the key problem with talents like Ascendance or Echo of the Elements as their values are driven by the Lightning Bolt vs Lava Burst differential. Most other classes have cooldowns that increase damage, resource generation, an attribute or a combination of these.

There are also a few carry-overs from existing Warlords design problems, like including Maelstrom generation on Lava Burst. This one is a matter of opinion, but I found the Mists of Pandaria resource generation model a bit easier to manage, ie: I didn’t need to worry about not spending resources if I was about to cast Lava Burst. In Warlords this means that with the Tier 18 2pc bonus (Earth Shock has a chance to refund consumed resources) you can be hitting Earth Shock multiple times while Lava Burst is off cooldown, which just feels wrong given that the core “rule” of the rotation is to hit Lava Burst whenever you can.

Part Four: Talent Structure and Swapping

The talent tree for Elemental feels a bit weird. There are certain “role” functions for Levels 15, 45 and 60, but when looking at 30, 75, 90 and 100 there are big variations in functions.

Looking at L30 we have a solo movement ability, a stationary raid movement aura and a weak-ish damage to healing cooldown. Leaving aside the fact that Windrush Totem will be required by some raid teams to deal with certain movement mechanics, it seems weird to have a healing ability as a choice against two movement options or to have two group cooldowns vs a self cooldown.

Similarly the 75, 90 and 100 rows have cooldown, movement & area of effect options. The choices here seem to be more a jigsaw puzzle of working out which ones you want most and then avoiding the things that don’t work well in conjunction with them. For example, Magnitude leans towards Earthquake use with Flame Shock multidotting whereas Lightning Rod works better with Chain Lightning “spam”, so you’d only want to take one of the two.

Level 100 itself is basically the “Choose Your Own Cooldown” option, but even with the Crit % = Damage Bonus to Lava Burst change for Ascendance they all seem to be a bit underwhelming compared to other cooldown options, nevermind the stat priority swings that result if you go from Ascendance to Icefury.

The structure of the talent rows seems to lend towards frequent swapping depending on fight requirements, which is why the recent announcement regarding requiring “safe spaces” to change talents. This will both require players to select a primary talent build to deal with most encounters and the pre-pull “Can someone drop a safe-zone-thingie?” requests as people change talents based on strategies, etc

Part Five: Artifacts

There are a couple of big differences between the Elemental artifact and the artifacts for other ranged specs.

  1. Most specs have damage reduction & additional self healing traits. Elemental has an auto-heal when going under 35% HP (the closest comparison is Balance with a 5% per rank chance to trigger when damaged) and an increase to Healing Surge healing. This means that Elemental players will require more healing for the same amount of incoming damage or need to take time to self heal.
  2. The artifact use abilities for most other specs are “Use to do something now”. Elemental’s Stormkeeper generates 3 charges of a damage buff for Lightning Bolt, which seems less impactful both visually and damage wise. There’s also a very real chance that the buff will expire before the last charge is used.
  3. The art for the Fist of Ra-Den is great, but as it’s a fist weapon for a caster there’s been some shoe-horned methods to get it to display more often (it rotates 90 degrees in some cases, or looks weird during Ascendance). Making the main artifact the shield could have been more thematic while also making something that displays all the time.

In Summary

This has been coming for a while, but don’t worry I’ll still be playing Elemental, writing guides & doing mathy things, but it’ll be an active alt rather than my raiding main. I just don’t feel that the spec will overcome the things that I consider to be important issues. Posts have been made about these things in the past, but as we’re coming up on 3 months to Launch it’s most likely too late to change anything.

About binkenstein
I'm a geek, living in Christchurch, New Zealand.

20 Responses to The Main Swap

  1. Windraist says:

    I, too, have been looking at switching away from Elemental shaman after having stuck with it since it first became available to alliance in BC. I’ve been looking at Enhancement or Demon Hunter. Now I’m checking out Frost Mage on the beta, in hopes of a ranged class that I enjoy.

    Thank you for putting into such eloquence what I’ve been experiencing! Now when people ask me why I’m switching, I can link this blog post!

  2. Jeluta-AltarofStorms says:

    I’ve been following, and benefiting, from your contributions for nearly half a decade. I’m disheartened, but understand the decision. Anyone that has raided as an elemental shaman can empathize and relate to the constant struggle of deciding whether or not to stick with this spec, despite its continual shortcomings. I’ve been of the opinion for sometime that we’re nothing more than stubborn and selfish players that want to make something work, despite evidence to the contrary that it ever will. This post has created a crisis of faith for me, and I assume it will do the same for other steadfast wielders of the elements. I hope I have the wherewithal to stick to my guns, and continue chaining lightning. Even if your contributions continue to benefit us remaining raiders, this can’t be construed as anything but a blow to our class and spec. I’m left feeling like we’ve been nerfed even before Legion rolls out. May the elements guide you!

  3. Reddbull says:

    Bink, you have been a trooper for many years. I have benefitted greatly from your research and conclusions. I have played Ele since Vanilla. I remember watching a Troll named “Rainmaker” to the tune of “Heart-shaped Box”, wreck face in Bgs and Ironforge. I played 2H Enh at the time, made the switch and never looked back (save the occasional Resto play as needed.).

    I sat out a good portion of Cata (due to Ele woes in PvE and PvP), came back in MoP and felt the end of the expac finally got Ele right. PvE and PvP were fun, competitive and engaging…then came WoD…Lots of Hype, fun leveling, but that’s about it. PvP went from a challenge and fun, to a frustration and a chore.

    I had great hopes that the Legion PvP changes announced at Blizzcon would fix the mess that was Ashran, but everything I read says otherwise.

    I had taken a year off and just recently decided to resub, but took a harder look at alts. I have fallen in love with Blood tanking. I get it, am decent at it, and it doesn’t involved staring at a bear butt the whole time (Druid tanked in LK). Frost seems viable in PvP and tanks are always in need, so my main for over a decade my soon become an alt also.

    I love Ele. Stuck with it through many horrible expacs, but I am uninterested in doing it again. Not sure why every expac sees pages and pages of feedback for the same few classes while we are lucky to get and blue response at all.

    Bus Shock never left us it seems. Our class review (1.11) never really happened while certain classes have gone through many vast changes (for better or worse). Not sure why the Shaman stigma of Vanilla still exists after 10 years, but it does. I loved the time on my Shaman, but working twice as hard to accomplish things really no longer interests me. In fact Legion may not interest me, but the jury is still out on making that purchase or not.

    Godspeed on whatever class you land on.

  4. Crescent says:

    Awww, I was heavily considering playing elemental in legion as a choice of RDPS ;(. I hate how moonkin are looking in Legion, so I was looking at warlock/spriest/ele shaman.

    Too bad, I really love the look of the artifact, the spell effects, and the bursty nature of ele.

    • A. says:

      “and the bursty nature of ele.”


      • Crescent says:

        I know you’re coming from a PvE raid perspective here, so I’ll humor your mockery. But ele shaman IS bursty in any PVP scenario or for that matter any instance where health pools are not particularly large.

        PvP talented lava burst is taking out 1/3 of a player’s HP. That’s bursty, whether you like to admit it or not.

        So, please, I know you people are bitter about mages and rogues in PvE, but try to keep some perspective in how the definition of burst varies by game format.

        Arcane mage is NOT viable in arenas, and in overworld PvE by the time you ramp up arcane charges the mob is dead, whereas ele and enhancement shaman can more easily frontload their damage.

  5. Coldfire989 says:

    Long as the WA gets updated and whatnot then have fun doing whatever makes you happy in topping meters with an OP class.

  6. Christian H. says:

    Gotta be honest this scares me a little😦

  7. Fee says:

    Since the end of MoP (I came back to 5.4 after leaving in 4.1) I was wondering, why the heck a raid would look out for an elemental shaman. Everytime a guild was looking für an Ele in /2 I’d like to ask: Why, but why?

    You contribute virtually nothing to a raid beside your damage. Bloodlust is coming from every Resto/Enhancer – and ironically every mage! – too, so no need for elemental here.

    Fire-/Storm-Ele are personal dmg-CDs as Ascendance/EM is, Searing Totem fire&forget contribution to your own damage. Even Mastery is buffed by Paladins, b/c the passive Shaman-aura get’s lost in some fights.

    Enh – now in a “very good a AoE-Cleave. mediocre at ST”-situation and also not contributing anything besides simple damags at least gets Stormlash in Legion, Resto gets the new “AoE-Ankh”.

    Ele shines In some fights (Iron Maidens in BRF, Council in HFC with Class-trinket), but that’s a very small niche and again: They bring again only damage, nothing else. If you switch an Ele for another DD with comparable damage you’re going to miss: nothing.

    Your Insights, Tweets, Blogs, Guides, WeakAuras etc. were and are very helpful for my shaman, but I can perfectly understand, why you want to switch. So, have fun playing the mage! (I like Arcane, fantasy-wise, but wouldn’t expect this broken dmg from nowadays in the first tiers of Legion)

    I played Ele since mid-BC (starting WoW there), in Legion I’m going to main my druid (with any role my raid needs to be filled) and after that I’ll level my Shaman as healer sometimes later. It’s kind of sad, but times are a’changing and we’ll see what happens in the later Legion tiers.

  8. Ajgor says:

    Bink, will you be making guides for mages now? I have rerolled from ele once HFC hit live, it was a constant struggle and with a mage i managed to top dps without problems. Its a shame really, but I’d love to follow your theorycrafting if you go into a mage🙂

    • binkenstein says:

      Yes, actually.

  9. Coldfire989 says:

    elemental weak Aura still a go as well?

    • binkenstein says:

      Yep. Tweeted a new image of it yesterday.

      Still doing most of the usual Ele stuff, just without the extra projects

      • Coldfire989 says:

        Cool cool well I hope the Mage thing goes well for you man, glad you will still be around even if as an alt

  10. Joshua A Kendall says:

    So, curiously, what spec do you have an idea that you will be going?

    • binkenstein says:

      Mage, current preference is Arcane > Frost > Fire

  11. Sasquatch says:

    In WoD I ended up raiding a 2nd guild.
    I generated a Marksman Hunter to run with them.
    It 100% put me off almost every aspect of what it means to be an Elemental shaman.
    Going trapping with the Hunter meant 2-3x the

    About 2 raids after I started running Hunter with the 2nd group I swapped to Enhance.
    Better, but not good.

    I feel you.
    Also… look forward to raiding Legion with you😉

    • Sasquatch says:

      Oops. Going trapping with Hunter meant 2-3x the gathering speed of the Elemental.

  12. Dean says:

    Sadly don’t disagree with a
    Single thing here

  13. gnxc says:

    Are ele shammys still gimped at the moment? ):

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