When you think of shamans most people will think of their unique, core abilities; the totems. These are pretty much a class defining concept and understanding them is vital to playing a shaman correctly.
In patch 3.2.0, shaman play was revolutionised with the introduction of the totem bar into the default UI. This allowed shamans to drop all four totems (that is to say, one from each element), in ONE global cooldown. Prior to this, totems for each element had to be dropped individually and aside from feeling a clumsy mechanic, the cost to our DPS was immense. Additionally, while shamans have arguable always been the DPS class that have feared movement fights the most, before the appearance of the totem bar, repositioning totems was catastrophic to our damage.
(Image courtesy of http://www.worldofraids.com)
Shaman totems have been the cause of much discussion again recently, particularly centred around Totem of Wrath. As raiders are reaching higher levels of gear, demonology warlocks have been providing a much higher amount of spell damage to a raid through their Demonic Pact talent (which gives 10% of their total spell damage to all). Furthermore, recent changes have meant that demo locks no longer sacrifice a huge amount of personal damage to bring this buff to a raid. The community seems torn on whether this is a good thing or not. The presence of a demo lock means we’re able to use our fire DPS totems. However, for some shamans there seems to be almost a whimsical feeling of loss that they are no longer providing a much needed raid buff and a worry that they may no longer get their guaranteed raid spot. (This has perhaps been exasperated recently due to the fact that elemental DPS has been a little on the low side. This is now being addressed with an upcoming patch).
I never cease to be amused about the number of players who seem unhappy with the entire concept of totems. (Indeed, there was a recent call on the official forums for them to be removed all together and our buffs to be added as more conventional spells). Totems are a core aspect of the shaman class. They brings a huge amount of diversity to a raid if you know how to use them correctly. Take a good look at the different totems we have and you will soon realise the arsenal of skills we gain through them.
Learning to manage them correctly comes with time and practice. It can be overwhelming to a new shaman to be faced with so many totems and the job of remembering which to use where. Furthermore, you need to ensure that they are in range of the majority of the raid at all times. This can mean re-positioning them during a fight. Always try and think ahead during an encounter. If you know you have to move at a specific time, consider whether this would be a good point to reposition your totems (and reset their timers if they will not last the full duration of an encounter of course).
This guide will, hopefully, explain to newer elemental shamans which totems they should be dropping when, what the totems do and which effect the whole raid rather than being limited to just their own party. For the sake of ensuring the post doesn’t become too long, I’m going to break it up into sections focused around one element each.