Home > Raid Synergy > Raid Synergy, Elemental DPS, Fire Totems and Personal Skill.

Raid Synergy, Elemental DPS, Fire Totems and Personal Skill.

When Wrath launched, many of the class unique buffs were shared amongst other classes and specs. The idea behind this, according to Blizzard, was to “bring the player and not the class” and to relieve the pressure of creating that perfect raid. While this class homogenization was received with very mixed feeling from the community, I generally think it was a good move by Blizzard. I still, painfully, remember sitting outside M’uru’s room, or indeed outside many boss rooms in Sunwell Plateaux waiting for a shadow priest to log on. (Raid without one?! Are you insane?!)

Raid Synergy

I raid in a ten man strict guild. When Decimation was first formed our raid setup was as follows:-

  • Protection Paladin
  • Protection Paladin
  • Holy Paladin
  • Holy / Disc. Priest
  • Restoration Druid
  • Shadow Priest
  • Enhancement Shaman
  • Retribution Paladin
  • Destruction Warlock
  • Destruction Warlock

It wasn’t long before I was asked to take my elemental shaman to the main raids more and more. Initially this was due to us struggling on the faction champions encounter in trial of the crusader. However, raid DPS showed an increase and I was happy to switch my main character anyway. Quite early in the history of the guild, a few people returned to their former guild and we started to recruit with raid synergy more in mind. We gained a mage fairly early but nearly all the applications we received were from melee DPS. It soon happened that the melee DPS were boasting some nice buffs and the casters just had me (with the shadow priest having returned to healing). Shortly after, our GM rerolled boomkin.

Decimation’s current raid setup looks like this:-

  • Protection Paladin
  • Protection Paladin
  • Protection / Fury Warrior
  • Holy Paladin
  • Holy / Disc Priest
  • Holy / Shadow Priest
  • Enhancement Shaman
  • Frost Death Knight
  • Balance Druid
  • Elemental Shaman
  • Demonology Warlock
  • Marksman Hunter

One of our former members chastised myself and the GM quite frequently about our preoccupation with raid synergy and class balance. Now while I should stress we have always tried to consider applications from any class and spec, as we’ve progressed with Icecrown hardmodes, we’ve become more focussed on the synergy we take to a raid.

Through the course of Icecrown Citadel, elemental shaman’s have received DPS buffs twice after concerns from the community that our damage output was lagging behind those of other casters, even considering the hybrid penalty. One thing I wish to stress here, there is a huge difference between a good elemental shaman and a poor one. While the rotation itself looks easy to “outsiders”, it actually takes quite a lot of focus. Chain lightning can be either an increase to DPS or a loss dependent upon the amount of haste you have. When taking into account haste cool downs (heroism, beserking, elemental mastery, hyperspeed acceleration and speed potions), this can mean you use or drop chain lightning from your rotation at various times during a boss encounter. Combine this with double hasting your flame shock’s whenever possible and the rotation can be challenging. Never the less, both times that Blizzard buffed our DPS, I agreed with it. This brings me onto how I believe elemental shaman’s are faring after the last round of buffs. Personally, while I felt the increase in game instantly, over time, I still didn’t believe it was quite enough to make us truly competitive with other good DPS.

Last week however, we made another change to our roster and probably our last of Icecrown Citadel. Much to my delight, we took a demonology warlock. This was something myself and the GM had debated to great lengths in the past. Demonology, traditionally, lags behind affliction and destruction. As we had both played raiding warlocks for many years, this was something we knew first hand. Indeed back in Trial of the Crusader, we did experiment with our GM specing demonology for a few raids. The result? His loss in personal DPS wasn’t being made up for by the increase in raid DPS. Never the less, we decided to try it again. Our basis for this decision was quite simple. We knew it was another caster DPS we wanted. We run with two full time casters (myself as the elemental shaman and him as the boomkin) and one part time shadow priest (who plays holy on fights requiring three healers). The addition of demonic pact would give the casters and healers easily another 100 spell power over what we currently received from my totem of wrath. In addition, we would be freeing myself up to use fire dps totems.

This reset is the first that we have run with this raid composition and we didn’t honestly know how it would work. Our raid DPS has, however, been the higher than ever. Our Blood Queen Lana’thel kill took 4 minutes and 47 seconds down from 5 minutes 18 seconds the week before. We secured our first Professor Putricide kill on heroic after just 5 attempts. A fight that had looked slightly tight for us on DPS the week before. From a personal point of view, while initially hasty about using fire DPS totems (and the range issues that come with this), I’ve been rocking the meters again.

For reference, on both the above kills, I received the bite second.

For anyone wondering, I was glyphing for the reduced cooldown on the fire elemental totem on bosses where the encounter lasted long enough to use it twice. For us, this is Lady Deathwhisper heroic and Lich King normal. Outside of that, I’m switching between glyph of lava and glyph of flametongue weapon depending upon the encounter and what I’m casting. If chain lightning is making up a good portion of my damage, I’m glyphing flametongue, otherwise I switch to lava. I’m then using a combination of the fire elemental totem and searing totem.

Elemental DPS and the Totem of Wrath Penalty

As a shaman who has always dropped totem of wrath, while I was theoretically aware of the loss in personal DPS that was paid by buffing the raid, I hadn’t been quite so personally confronted with it before. Obviously, this is going to be a thing of the past come Cataclysm.

Last week I was browsing various forums as usual and stumbled across an interesting post from Paragon’s main tank and raid leader, Lazei. As I’m sure many of my readers will be aware of, Paragon’s world first 25 man kill of the heroic Lich King encounter didn’t feature an elemental shaman in their setup. What you maybe unaware of, is that they don’t have one on their roster. A poster enquired about this on their forums and received the following answer:-

  • You can either bring:
    Demo lock – best spellpower buff
    Moonkin – 5% spell crit aura, 3% hit, innervate and combat res (we LOVE combat resses), 3% extra avoidance for tanks
    Resto shaman – 5% spell haste


    Ele shaman – worse spellpower, 5% spell crit aura, 3% aoe offensive crit (muti rogue also brings this), 5% spell haste
    Shadow priest – 3% hit (and extra reple if needed)

    Overall in our opinion the moonkin setup wins so there is no spot for an ele shaman in our raids. Ele shaman can do decent dps if ToW isn’t needed. But they lose too much dps when buffing with ToW because the fire dps totems aren’t available.

When pushed a little further on his opinion on elemental DPS, he replied:-

  • If you absolutely want to min/max your raid then yeah, ele shamans are pretty bad.

    Do you absolutely need to min/max your raid? Is the ele shaman much better player than the rest? There might be a spot for him afterall. Its not always just about what the class/spec can do. Its also about the player too to atleast some degree..

  • Paragon’s actual raid setup can be seen below. The image is courtesy of mmochampion.

    I’d like to emphasise, that I’m not the type of player to go screaming for buffs because a guild don’t use an elemental shaman (also for reference, they didn’t take a mage to that first kill either and I don’t think anyone can realistically argue that mages’ have had a bad expansion). As he stressed, the personal skill of the player is critical and you will find elemental shaman’s well represented amongst the rosters of the top guild’s in the world. However, notice again that he says when using totem of wrath, elemental DPS is sub-par in comparison with other equally skilled DPS. Obviously in the case of Paragon we’re referring to players at the absolute cutting edge of PvE raiding. Another thing to consider is that no one else defeated the Lich King on heroic with the same Icecrown Citadel buff that they did. All following kills have been achieved with the 10% increase to damage and healing.

    Personal Skill

    This is always difficult to define. While there are obvious factors that determine personal skill, such as class knowledge, it all essentially comes down to pressing buttons. Knowing your class thoroughly and having your skills key bound enables you to press the correct key in response to certain environmental stimuli. Aside from this, I personally think one of the enormous differences between a good DPS and a poor one is attention. It’s easy to slip into auto pilot and just hammer your rotation. The players that excel are usually the ones timing their cooldowns perfectly, moving in such a way as to minimise their casting down time, using “tricks” such as double potting (and on that note, always potting, regardless of the encounter.)


    Obviously, Cataclysm will already address the issue with the loss of personal DPS that comes from buffing your raid. Quite simply, elemental shaman’s will gain a talent option allowing all our fire totems to provide the spell power buff. In addition, it will scale with our gear exactly as demonic pact. In summary? Not only will we stop losing DPS due to our flagship buff totem, but it will also be of the same calibre as the warlock’s spell power buff.

    Cataclysm also addresses another personal annoyance for me; AoE damage. When it comes to AoE damage, we have to wade into the melee, drop down a magma totem, perhaps throw a thunderstorm, wade back out, casting fire nova as we go and then beginning to chain lightning everything. When you compare this to a warlock, mage or boomkin, they stand still and channel.

    Cataclysm is bringing us earthquake. A new, likely channelled, persistent AoE talent.

    For reference, you can read my full review of the shaman changes for Cataclysm, here.

    In summary, I’d be interested to know how other people feel their DPS has faired during Icecrown Citadel. For us, we have one more heroic encounter between us and the Lich King; Sindragosa. After some early attempts on her last week, it didn’t look like she would be an encounter that would hold us back for long. The DPS requirements for the Lich King on heroic are, however, very demanding and it was with this in mind that we chose to take a demonology warlock as the final addition to our raid. So far, this decision has definitely paid off for us and we’re glad that we chose to go this route rather than recruit another mage (this was the class formally occupying this caster spot.)

    Categories: Raid Synergy
    1. April 19, 2010 at 2:20 pm

      A very interesting post. I find there are very few times when it is okay for me to leave CL out, and with a FT/CL combo, using Glyph of Lava does not seem to give me any real additional burst damage.

      Very interesting discussion about the min-maxing in 10 mans.

      On double potting I must admit that I only do it if I feel like it for the Lower Spire area of Ice Crown, mainly for expense reasons.

      In terms of my class DPS, my guild has a full compliment of ranged buffs for most raids, but only around half of our DPS is really top notch – the others are good but not so interested in min-maxing. As a result, when I am on form with my casting and movement I tend to end up in the top 5 for boss fights. If I have a particularly bad fight I’m top 8.

      I would call my DPS satisfactory, I think 3.3.3 has been great for adding interest and nuance to our casting. I am really looking forward to Earthquake though!

    2. April 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm

      I was concerned about my DPS in early/mid Icecrown, but the buffs in 3.3.2 felt just about right. Then 3.3.3 brought hasted flame shocks, another “free” glyph and the explosion in 4t10’s scaling.

      My (10-man) guild has a varied line-up because we’re quite “casual” (we minmaxed for some hardmodes but tend to avoid deliberate raid stacking), but usually we have most of the big caster buffs except Demonic Pact. We also usually run with two elemental shamans, which means that we can swap ToW duties between us. I now find that even if dropping ToW, my DPS is extremely competitive and within a percent or so of the top of the charts. If I can use Fire Elemental/Searing, I’ll almost always “top the meters” convincingly.

      Partly this is because Elemental Shamans actually need very few classes present to provide most of the buffs they need to excel, so I’m able to shine *compared to our other DPS* (who are all fantastic, by the way) by virtue of the fact that I’m reliant on fewer buffs which we happen to have most of in the raid. I actually think, especially when factoring in our utility, elemental is one of the best sustained DPS class-specs for 10-man raids. I agree that the situation only looks to get better going into Cataclysm!

      But yeah, for 25-mans, it looks a bit different.

    3. Hexlol
      April 19, 2010 at 7:29 pm

      Scaling has always been the main issue, that’s for sure. This makes us feel like we need some fix, but i can’t help thinking i like self-rezzing, and even without buffs, never out of mana and still do a fairly decent dps.

      Caster life in icc is not easy at all, but i never felt my dps was lagging behind. Our guild’s meters are pretty solid, with no more than 1% gap from top to bottom, wich is pretty ok.
      But in 10man, ele shamans are supperb. Buffs, burst,ranged cleave, rapid rotation preparation, infinite mana, heals. I mean. It’s what you want from a hybrid.

      When we first killed Lichking10 (and by the way, this blog helped me A LOT), i was really impressed with how usefull and dynamic our class is. Having a friend saved with an aoe root, nuking the man hard ass hell while still killing adds(splash), and going into the frostmourne with one of the best fast nuking classes there is – is priceless

    4. Maker
      April 20, 2010 at 3:24 pm

      I think we bring fantastic dps to a raid. Even with similar gear and skill, we can give the rest of the dps a run for their money.

      Unfortunately for me, pugs on my server have a tendency to overlook elementals unless it’s a resto shaman’s offspec. Paragon set a standard that our pugs keep looking to, but that’s a different story. Despite this, most of our top guilds are constantly looking for an elemental to bolster their ranks.

    5. Jen
      April 21, 2010 at 10:33 am

      Hi Zing,

      I am very interested by your blog and this was a very useful post, as I can relate very closely to you. You see, I am also from a 10 man strict guild, a few places below you I think (no 32 in the world iirc) and progressing well. Until a few weeks ago I had always played a warlock. We’ve quite often had setup problems in the past. When I started raiding, we ran with 2 mages, a warlock, a rogue and maybe a warrior or something. Since then we have progressed as being a 10 man strict guild and started to pay more attention to our setup. So around 6 months ago our raid leader (the rogue) decided to reroll to his druid and go moonkin. At the same time, one of the mages took up tanking on his druid and the dk tank we had before rerolled to his rogue and took the RLs place. Shortly after 3.3 when affliction and demo got their buffs, I went to demonology and raided as demo until we got the LK down. It made a huge difference in our group.

      But there was always one thing we missed, and that was a shaman. For a 10man that was quite alot. We didn’t have any melee buffs, no bloodlust, no 5% haste (though we had moonkin), and demonology didn’t offer much in terms of quick burst and slows/stuns/interrupts.

      We also have a holy paladin who isn’t always available, only half the time, so we were lacking a healer quite alot. I was the only one with a shaman alt. Our druid had one but he was already healing full time. So i decided to reroll, and I am now playing elemental when we have our holy pally, and resto when not. Losing Demonic Pact was quite a kick in the teeth, plus my elemental gear was certainly not as good as my locks, only pushing 7k single target with my lock doing over 9k. With better gear though I am confident I can do the same. I think the shammy buffs have made up for it, but my warlock could push almost 5k spell power during a fight, which is almost 2/3 more than what ToW could give.

      I am amazed at how much more utility i have as a shaman though. so many different tricks up my sleeve…I had frost shock, thunderstorm, earthbind for the adds on Saurfang, and LK. I have a short cooldown interrupt as both healer and dps, excellent for the frostmages on Dreamwalker, and Harvest Soul on LK. I have the option to heal now, which I so didn’t like about playing a pure dps. The elemental playstyle is so much faster, and more bursty than a demo lock. I didn’t realise how much proc watching I needed to do on my lock! IT rules for add switching fights, which is pretty much most of ICC.

      The changes we are getting are going to put the cherry on the cake for me, and I plan on going into Cata as a full time healer as our holy pally wants to play his hunter full time. I really think an addition of a shaman to our team is pretty awesome, just a shame we have to pay by losing our demo lock. IF we had a demo lock it would be awesome. I so wish our mage played a warlock to be honest. But no matter, we won’t need it in Cata.

      Our setup is as follows by the way, with one hunter coming in when I switch to heal:

      Feral Druid
      Prot Warrior

      Arcane Mage
      Me as elemental(or MM hunter)
      Combat Rogue
      Ret Pally

      Disc priest
      Resto Druid
      Me as resto, or holy pally

      It’s great to find a 10 man strict blog, especially with experience as a lock and a shaman! Thanks for sharing.

    6. Jen
      April 21, 2010 at 10:34 am

      My guild is Deliverance by the way, and my character name is Jenster if you’re curious ;).

      • April 21, 2010 at 11:07 am

        Hiya 🙂

        Interesting to hear you guys kinda hit the same problems we did.

        When we formed we hadn’t particularly considered our roster as such. Well, aside from the “we want two tanks, three healers then DPS.”

        However we couldn’t find an ele shaman anywhere, our casters had zero buffs and it showed in their DPS (we were working on anub hard at that time and struggling). My shaman was 80 and I always used to be asked to take her in for champions since we struggled for interrupts. The one day I stayed on her for the entire duration, our raid DPS increased.

        Like you, I love the shaman and the change from the lock is huge. The warlocks have so little utility really and moving from that to a shaman that can interrupt, purge, has so many utility totems and so on was like wow! 😛

        We originally had a mage also but he got burned out and quit about 2 months ago. I was secretly hoping it was a warlock that applied for the spot but was sooo happy when it was 😛

        Now having the demo lock frees me to use fire dps totems, my personal dps has rockected and the raid wide DPS is up as he’s buffing the other casters 😀

        It’s always great to hear from other ten man strict guilds. There seem to be more popping up slowly.

    7. Jen
      April 21, 2010 at 2:48 pm

      Just can’t wait until Cata when we can supply the buff AND drop any fire totem of our choice. Though since i’ll most likely be healing, I’m secretly hoping one of our core raiders will reroll a demo lock. Actually our mm hunter wants to play his lock in Cataclysm, and he’s trying demo out as of now…just hope he sticks with it…though i’m just greedy for buffs *insert wicked grin here*.

      I dunno, maybe i’m just so damn useful with my well geared demo lock and resto/ele shaman. Unfortunately they can’t have everything! Looking forward to your next blog, and congrats on getting a 2nd (wait, 2nd?!) shammy to 80.

    1. April 19, 2010 at 9:14 pm

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