Sunday, 4 April 2010

Burn, baby burn!

Are shaman the new AOE grinding class?
Today I'm going to share a little trick that hasn't been discussed much in any of the forums or blogs I've seen. Exploiting the unique combination of heavy armour and AOE DPS that elemental shamans have. Not in a raiding sense, but for levelling. It's something that I discovered by accident when a load of mobs re-spawned on me in what I thought was a safe area. An elemental shaman can burn down vast swathes of enemies in one go - a trick normally reserved for frost mages and prot paladins. Your great advantage is that you have the DPS of a mage, combined with the armour of a plate-wearer.

I'm not just talking about easy-kill low level mobs here, I'm talking ones at or above your level. Only two of the dead beasties you see in the picture above were at my level. The rest were above it. The only reason I was limited to six for this picture was because that's all there were in the room. You can easily handle more than that - at no point in this fight did I fall below 75% health or mana.

You're crazy #1: shaman AOE is terrible!
Well, that depends what you mean. Shaman DPS has caused some concerns at the Icecrown Citadel level, particularly AOE. The problem there is that to get half-way decent AOE, you have to:
  1. run in;
  2. drop your magma totem right in the middle of a pack of mobs;
  3. run out;
  4. fire nova;
  5. cast for a while until the magma totem perishes, weaving in fire nova when it's off cooldown;
  6. repeat.
Given the short life of a magma totem (20 seconds), that's a lot of running for each AOE. If the mobs get moved, it all goes to rats.  Now imagine that you know where the mobs are - right on top of you. Then there's no running and no missed DPS due to movement, it starts to look a bit different.

You're crazy #2: you'll just get squished!
Not really. You're a mail wearing class with a shield who can self heal, not a wizard in a dress. For example, my little L45 shaman wearing approximately 50/50 caster greens & blues has 46% damage reduction with stoneskin totem up. Not raid tank material, certainly, but up there with plate DPS classes. What's more, because most of the damage comes from the automatic ticks of the magma totem + sporadic instant-cast fire novas, I can easily heal in-between those.

You're crazy #3: this will only work with imba gear.
My little shaman is my first character Horde-side on AD. I have no heirlooms, no enchants and just junk gear I've picked up from dungeon-finder PUGs. No twinking was involved.

You're crazy #4: why isn't everybody doing it, then?
A good question. I don't really know the answer to this, but it may be because the crucial change (to fire nova) was made after the expert shammies were all at level 80 and raiding. Why should they be worrying about how to level?

You're crazy #5: these specialist AOE builds are great for showing off, but they sacrifice single target DPS.
I haven't used a specialist AOE build here. I currently have Call of Flame, but no Improved Fire Nova or  Glyph of Fire Nova. I'm just using a fairly regular elemental shaman levelling build. If I had those extras, AOE grinding would be even more effective.

You're crazy #6: you'll run out of mana.
Oh Water Shield, how I love you. Thanks to the large numbers of beasties beating on you, you get a steady mana regen from water shield. Improved Shields would make this better, but I'm too low to start branching out into the enhancement tree. It's fine as it is right now.

OK - maybe it might work. How do I get started?
I'm currently running with this build, with Glyph of Lightning Bolt, Glyph of Flametongue Weapon and Glyph of Water Walking. In other words, completely non-optimised for AOE. I dread to think how effective this approach might be if you actually tuned your spec for it, as frost mages and prot paladins have to.

Wear any old green/blue caster mail you can pick up. It's important to wear mail here (not cloth like you might use for an instance) and carry a shield.

From then on, it's easy:
  1. Round up a bunch of mobs (start with 3-4 until you've got the hang of it, then increase gradually). Avoid mobs with an interrupt, or you'll just be a mess of mail and blood on the floor. You can handle a single caster, provided you bring all the others to him. That's one more than a frost mage can handle, by the way. Mobs with poison or disease are less of a problem for you than other AOE classes, because you have a Cleansing Totem. If you get dazed during the pull, drop a Stoneclaw Totem to keep them busy while you gather the others. 
  2. Drop totems. Generally speaking, you'll want to use Magma, Stoneskin, Mana Spring and (some junk air totem).  Wrath of Air is good when you get it, but that requires level 64. If the mobs cause poison or disease switch the mana spring totem to cleansing. You'll finish the fight on slightly less mana, but you'll still win.
  3. Fire nova whenever it's off cooldown.
  4. If your Water Shield is down, refresh it.
  5. If you have a load of health and it's off cooldown, cast Chain Lightning.
  6. Refresh the Magma Totem as needed.
  7. Otherwise, heal yourself.
  8. Repeat until mobs are dead.
  9. Remember: if it all goes wrong, you still have your Ankh!


  1. Oh I think Fire Nova definitely makes AoE grinding so much easier. Add in the Fire Nova Glyph, and I think you've got an AoE grinding machine. We have more survivability talents and tricks than people realise ;)

    Add in Earthquake and I think we'll have a lot of fun in Cata :D

  2. Yes. What scares me is that I was AOE grinding without even the slightest effort to optimise for it. If you glyphed or talented it, I can only imagine how fast the mobs would go down.