Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why a shaman?

If you don't play a shaman, you might wonder what the appeal is. Sure, back in the day they were widely regarded as the most powerful PvP class, so it's no wonder they were initially so popular. But since then, shaman have received very little love in terms of class updates and are known to have a number of issues currently. Shaman is the least popular class, so why would you want to play a class that Blizzard (and popular opinion) has recognized has some serious concerns?

To me, the biggest advantage of the class is its versitility. Shaman have three very viable, very different talent trees that give you the option to play a hack-and-slasher, a spellslinger, or a healer, all for the small price of a respec. If you get tired of a particular playstyle, hit your local shaman trainer, grab some new gear, and you have a completely different character - but without having to grind all those reputations again. The downside is that the talent trees don't play particularly well together, making it more difficult to make good hybrid builds (at least from a raid perspective. There are several good PvP hybrid spec's).

A second advantage for the shaman isn't just how powerful your own DPS or healing is (and they excel at both), but how much you bring to the rest of your raid. Totems provide some phenomenal buffs and there's a smattering of additional boosts in each of the talent trees as well. Obviously this isn't a big draw if you're primarily PvP-focused, but they're well worth adding to a raid (I can't find the link, but there was an estimation that an enhancement shaman can boost a warrior's DPS by as much as 20% from totems and Unleashed Rage alone).

With the pluses come the minuses, of course. Both enhancement and elemental have serious threat issues due both to their reliance on crit, providing unexpected burst damage, and their lack of aggro-shedding abilities that other classes enjoy such as Feint, Invisibility or Soulshatter. Elemental shaman have the additional difficulty of sustaining their DPS over a long fight due to poor mana efficiency, although a good shadow priest generally fixes that problem. Gear itemization is also an issue for both elemental and enhancement, though they're certainly not the only ones with that problem. Enhancement shaman are often regarded as weak in PvP due to their lack of crowd control or ways to close quickly with their enemy. Although frost shock and earthbind have some utility, it is usually the opponent that sets the tone and speed for the fight. And what about restoration? Not a whole lot of minuses there, fortunately, other than having so many good talents to choose from and the lack of synergy making taking talents in the other trees relatively unappealing.

I've certainly questioned whether making the switch to shaman was worth it from time to time. But those times are few and far between these days. I wasn't particularly good at enhancement, but it's hard not to get excited when you have those sudden string of Windfury crits and your enemy's health just melts away. I also really enjoyed playing elemental and switch back every once in a while for a change of pace and WTFpwnage. But most importantly, I find healing as a shaman to be incredibly fun. Besides being very strong healers (only lacking a heal over time or instant-cast spell), Chain Heal is simply amazing, making shaman one of the best raid-healers in the game.

Shaman have some issues right now, but Blizzard is supposedly looking into them. They've been saying this for some time, apparently, but I'd like to think they'll eventually make good on it. And in the meantime, all three roles are a lot of fun and fairly successful at their roles already, so I'd heartily recommend that class to anyone who wants to be able to "do it all."


Philip said...

Very well put. Shamans are great in raiding, but I wanted to move to the arena scene.

I use to play a resto shaman, but as you mention "these problems" I can't help but think about my own that I ran into while playing as a resto shaman. Been very open to Counterspell and Spell locks (interupts) makes it very difficult to heal in arena / bgs. Everything is castable and having no CC doesn't seem to help. By playing a shaman you will have difficulty in 2vs2, 3vs3. I herd that 5vs5 shaman is a great character to play.

I now play a resto druid. Superior healer in arena / bg. Has some advantages in raids also.

Very nice blog, keep it up.

Draezele said...

Shaman can definitely be tough to play in an arena, although I've heard about as many complaints regarding druids, so YMMV. :)

I play on a 3-healer 5v5 team and I've been having a blast with it. I'm usually the first focus-fire target (the other two healers are both paladins) and it's amazing just how long I can take a beating. I also like how many options we have during the fight - besides the usual healing and heroism buffing (which is simply amazing!), there's purging your focus fire target, interrupting casting, and tossing totems where appropriate. Definitely keeps you on your toes!

Elemental shaman also do fairly well in 5v5 since they have good DPS and can switch to healing when necessary. I've considered trying it for a game or two, but I dread the thought of regrinding all the honor gear to create a competitive kit. But it's a very effective build, especially on a 4-DPS team.

2v2 and 3v3 is much tougher for a shaman, however, since CC becomes so important in those brackets. We can hope they eventually give us some utility in that area (frost shock just doesn't really cut it), but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Thanks for your comments!

Philip said...

I know how to play a shaman, my studies indicate druid is best of suited for 2vs2 and 3vs3. Not really a 5s fan.


I out do my shaman with druid


Draezele said...

I wasn't trying to impune your abilities there, hope that's not how you took it. Just my natural tendency to pontificate. :)

It really depends on what ladders you're interested in. Shaman fare poorly in 2v2 and 3v3 due to the preponderance of CC, whereas druids really shine there. The reverse is true in 5v5, however, at least based on conversations I've had with my guildmate Phaelia. (She's still pretty good at 5v5, however, so her "faring poorly" may mean something different to her....)