A kink in the wind, and the way to Shamanism
While I’ve played World of Warcraft since the beginning of time, Enhancement Shaman has been my love for a relatively short period of it. I started leveling around the time Ulduar came out, and had been playing a Druid since release. Near the release of ICC, a friend of mine tried to talk me into applying to his guild – Voracity on Anvilmar. I ended up running in alt runs hosted by the guild’s main tank, and made some positive impressions over the course of the next month or two. Finally, early in ICC, I applied … and I was rejected. Too many ferals. But, interestingly, the guild gave me an unusual opportunity. They offered to give me a trial on one of my alts of their choosing. There was some deliberation, but their choice was to take my blue geared Enhancement Shaman after I spent a little time catching her up. I was fine with that, because I just wanted to play; the class or spec I ended up playing was of little concern at the time. A couple 10 mans later, I stepped foot in that same alt 25 run with my Shaman for a final gearing run and promptly nailed a number one rank on Deathbringer Saurfang, and in these raids I began a love affair with the Enhancement spec, one that continues to this day.
Despite my revitalized love for raiding and enjoyment of the spec, Enhancement in Icecrown Citadel left a lot to be desired. We relied heavily on a very short range Magma Totem; our mobility was tied to a 3 minute damage cooldown; our only survival ability was also a damage cooldown; we were competing with legendary wielders who handily beat us without the swirlies; 70% of our damage came from auto attacks; and we suffered through all of this while also having the lowest health pools in all of World of Warcraft. What took the Warriors to 45% would outright kill us. I viewed it as a challenge, not a disadvantage. We were made of glass, and it taught me to play that way. We had to.
From having an Elemental Warding spec with a Stoneclaw Totem glyph to even be able to survive the AoE effects of the earlier encounters before the buffs, to somehow being the only melee left alive after Valanar’s cup runneth over, and – finally – vanquishing the twisted amalgamation of Ner’zhul and Arthas 280 attempts later, the Enhancement spec was bordering on being a liability. And yet I persevered, being present and in the lineup for every pull of every single boss, earning and keeping my place. Many of you were the same.
The Heavens Burn
Our world teetered on the brink of annihilation. Cataclysm Beta arrived, and I spent a great deal of time there leveling, testing content, offering suggestions and feedback on the old forums, and possibly even having some impact – few argued more for the removal of Lava Burst from Maelstrom Weapon than I did, as its addition was an experiment that threw a wrench into our priority system (trust me, it was horrible) and would ultimately guarantee critical strike rating would be terrible for the entire expansion when it already looked like haste was going to be pitiful. I also happened to make a couple little suggestions along the lines of a DPS cooldown converting our attacks to nature damage, and another to increase our attack range. Hmm. That may sound familiar.
At any rate, as Elam so eloquently put it, “Lava Lash, which once did damage like a left hook from Betty White is now more like a Mike Tyson sucker punch” and the 4.0 patch went live with Enhancement having the hardest hitting melee attack in World of Warcraft. We also got that missing 20,000 health everyone else had. Yipee! Oh, and Ghost Wolf could be used indoors, after receiving a 25% reduction in its effectiveness. But that’s really the end of the good news.
Enhancement went into Cataclysm continuing to have the most god-awful AoE capabilities World of Warcraft has ever seen. Our DPS cooldown, Feral Spirits, were neutered. Fire Elemental became unusable because his flames weren’t searing. We traded our AoE short range totem that was at least guaranteed to hit our target for a stick with ADD and 32 cups of coffee in its system – a stick that contributed nearly 25% of our DPS. We traded our menacing axe for a pitiful mace or dagger with spell power yet again, and we went into a tier of raiding with more melee hate in it than any before or since. We all bore witness to the coming of a new age of destruction.
This was, in my opinion, Enhancement’s darkest hour. Our only value was in Wind Shear, and a terrible scaling curve that saw us top the charts in heroic dungeons, but never thereafter. All the optimism that came with the shattering of the world lasted about as long as it took to watch the shattering beautifully rendered before the title screen.
Then it got worse. At the time, it was hard to imagine Enhancement receiving a mid-expansion change to its AoE capabilities at all. It was even harder to imagine a change they could implement that would actually make it worse. Somehow, exactly that came to pass. It made it more effective, eventually, if the AoE phase lasted long enough, but it took what was already unfun and twisted it into something that felt similar to trying to pick up that last piece of rice with a fork while someone pokes you directly in the eye and you don’t shut it quick enough. A common argument of those who saw nothing wrong with the change was the fact that Warlocks, Druids, and Priests had to constantly switch targets to apply and re-apply periodic spells as well, but that wasn’t our problem. Our problem was doing all of that with a cooldown on our Flame Shock – which also has a facing requirement – and required us to stay in melee range of our current target. There were members of the Shaman community who ultimately spent hours tanking on the PTR to give players of other classes the opportunity to use a premade Shaman to test it, and the results were as expected. Fire Nova went from terrible to incomprehensibly awkward and unfun.
It may have been a blessing, but for a while I left the Shaman class for something a lot darker, as two of Voracity’s tanks had given notice for leaving the game. I took over for one of them, and helped us earn Voracity’s first Heroic Nefarian kill on my Blood Death Knight.
A new path
Shortly thereafter, Voracity went on hiatus and I found myself in an interview with the leaders of Temerity (Voracity has since resurrected and become a successful 25 man during what seems to be the early twilight of 25s, completely against the odds). I, naturally, applied as Enhancement, but due to the sad state of affairs with my beloved totemic warrior and what I can only assume was a solid application, I witnessed the death of Heroic Cho’gall with my fresh 85 Warlock – who just started questing in Hyjal two days earlier – wearing more greens than you knew existed. Amazingly, that Warlock acquired 4/5 heroic tier 11 gear from a single boss kill the next night. Firelands came and went, with my Shaman playing in a 10 man group of friends called Roshambo as Elemental and Resto. Temerity was nothing short of amazing, embodying all of the values I hold for a guild’s conduct, preparation, and execution, and that feeling remains to this day.
With the release of Firelands, Fire Nova received a small change through the Call of Flame talent that accompanied a significant buff to Stormstrike. Despite this, and despite an earlier change that saw Windfury receive an extra attack and Flametongue damage go down, we found ourselves using a main hand with spell power on it. Again. The buff to Stormstrike and the change to Call of Flame weren’t quite enough to turn the spec around, but it was something. An acknowledgement that we had a problem.
A spark of life
Six months later, I was able to try my hand at Enhancement in a raid setting again, to test our new toy – a completely redesigned Fire Nova, one that came with our opportunity to strike Deathwing down. I was skeptical. I was reluctant to believe that this change would be much better than earlier ones. Even after using it, it took a little time for the fact that our AoE system was finally functional to sink in. Not only that, but it was more fun than I expected it to be. Fortunately, Neltharion’s demise truly did give us something to be happy about for the first time in what felt like years. Lava Cleave worked surprisingly well. I could deal significant damage to a lot of targets for the first time ever as a Shaman, while our Elemental brethren proceeded to make Darth Sidious look as threatening as a panda cub.
The light of Dawn’s Blossom and beyond
Here we finally are nearing the fading of the mists. Mists we can see, because the darkness is behind us. I am returning to raiding as Enhancement, and it couldn’t possibly be at a better time. Fire Elemental’s flames burn a lot hotter. Our wolves have grown new teeth. We have not one, but two of the most powerful new abilities becoming available to players through the mists, complete with raid wide fists of thunder. Our AoE is even better. We have raid healing cooldowns. Bosses have re-learned how to cast groundable spells. They have regained the ability to cast purgeable buffs. Our roots and snares will finally have a use. Our Wind Shear button will be dusted off. We have a sprint and a stun. Searing Totem does what we want it to. In raids, we have among the highest top-end burst damage over a 15- to 30-second duration in the game. We, the Enhancement Shamen, finally have an upside worth mentioning. We have advantages that we’ve never had before, and while every prayer won’t be answered by the parting of the mists, for raiding as a spiritual totemic warrior, the future has never looked brighter.
During early heroic raid testing, I was filling a spot on a number of bosses for guilds that couldn’t field a full 10. In each raid, similar things were being said. I had no idea what kind of damage I was doing – I did not yet have Skada installed on beta – but the reaction from the raid leaders each time was the same. “Woah, what the hell did they do to Shamans?” “An Enhancement Shaman topping the charts, those still exist?” “This Shaman is pro, we haven’t had an Enhance since Firelands.”, and that’s only what they said over Ventrilo or Mumble. Maybe it was just a fluke. Maybe my competition in those groups just weren’t that good, but when my guild did some testing, the results were the same. At or near the top of of the Skada window or World of Logs reports was a dark blue name. Attempt after attempt, boss after boss, at all scaled gear levels, I was doing competitive and often chart-topping damage. Regardless of the group I’ve been running with, and even after the recent adjustment to Flurry, Fire Elemental and Lightning Bolt, the Enhancement Shaman has transformed from a light rain, dirt, and embers back into Storm, Earth, and Fire.
I know, it can be hard to believe that after the darkest nights of Wrath and Cataclysm that day could finally break on our specialization, but it’s in the process of happening. We still don’t have a meaningful resource. Our mobility is still unimpressive. Haste still feels like it’s doing nothing, despite actually being very good. Enhancement will not be without its problems, its disadvantages, its drawbacks, but for the first time since totem twisting, we have significant advantages to go along with them. Advantages we’ve sorely missed. We now have a reason to be brought beyond being that Shaman who fills our buff network in 10 mans. We have a reason to be brought beyond being the Shaman who fills the last raid spot in a 25 despite bringing nothing to the table. Finally, we can be brought for the best reason of all – because we can be difference makers.