And I’m not ready.

If there are advantages to starting WotLK a couple weeks later than most people (avoiding initial server queue times, less competition for quest mobs and items), this would probably be the biggest disadvantage.

I’m going to be way behind the curve, again.

Still, I’m looking forward to Season 5, even if I still have three levels to go before I can jump into a rated match. The new abilities, and the addition of Hex at level 80, changes the picture a bit for Enhancement Shamans:

  • Spirit Wolves: Simply put, they’re amazing. Like Shamanistic Rage, it’s probably best to “use early, use often.” The three minute cooldown probably takes the “often” out of that phrase for those high-burst, short matches, but that isn’t necessarily a big disadvantage when the wolves are up for 45 seconds.
  • Spirit Walk: This isn’t the answer to our mobility problems, and since the ability is tethered to the Spirit Wolves and only lasts for 15 seconds, the window of opportunity is very, very small. But remember all those Druid/Warrior comps in Seasons 3 and 4? And all those times you had the Druid at 4 or 5% only to get Cycloned/Ro0ted/Mace Stunned and have the Druid get away? Yeah. If we play our cards right, that shouldn’t be a problem anymore.
  • Hex: This is a big one, and admittedly at 77 I have no direct experience. But the spell opens up all sorts of new possibilities, allowing your team to CC the other team’s healer to burst down a vulnerable DPS or CC the DPS and take care of the healer. It’s also going to be extremely helpful to force teams into blowing their trinket cooldowns, but remember Hex has both a long cooldown and a cast time (the only CC in the game to have both) so the Shaman 50% rule applies here.
  • Improved Fire Nova Totem: Blizzard took away the bonus that would allow Fire Nova to explode 2 seconds earlier (at a cost of two talent points). Somehow it’s okay for Rogues and Warriors to have limitless instant stuns, but allowing Shamans to have a stun that takes two (now four) seconds is apparently too much. Still, as Enhancement, if you spec correctly for PvP and you’re a Tauren, you can stun up to six times in a single minute with Improved Fire Nova totem. That’s a HUGE change from our situation in Season 3 and Season 4.
  • Earthen Power: It sucks. There’s no getting around that. Theoretically, there will be times when both a snare and anti-snare are useful at the same time, but a totem that does both (on a relatively long cooldown) forces hard decisions, especially when using one Earth totem over another exposes the Shaman to Fear effects. This was the ill-concieved replacement for Spectral Transformation, and the rush-job is evident in the relative weakness of the talent, which requires a two-point investment. It will be interesting to see how many high-end players pass this up in favor of something more useful, despite its intention as a PvP talent.
  • Maelstrom Weapon: Along with Feral Spirit, this may be the most significant new talent in the Enhancement Shaman’s arsenal. Essentially, it’ll have two uses — throwing out instant Lightning Bolts or instant Healing Waves. Keeping in mind our terrible PvP survivability, it’ll probably be the latter in most situations. Maelstrom’s proc-per-minute mechanic is notable for the fact that it was changed from its original crit-based incarnation after widespread complaints from players who pointed out that, as yet another crit-based talent, Maelstrom would be far less effective in PvP than it was in PvE situations. The big question, of course, is how valuable this tool will be if Enhancement Shamans suffer the same fate they did in TBC — constantly crowd-controlled, with extremely limited windows of opportunity in which to DPS.

Those are the major differences, but as with any season, only time (and experience in actual matches) will tell how things fare for specific classes and specs. With Death Knights in the mix, we may find ourselves running into fewer Druid/Warrior, Druid/Rogue comps in 2’s, and other brackets may change as well, but that can either solve existing problems or open up a set of new ones for us.

And of course it’s entirely possible that Blizzard may come back and tweak a few things here and there, but I won’t hold my breath. For the time being, we’ve gotta roll with what we have, so it’s time to start squeezing everything we can out of abilities like Spirit Walk and Hex. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out in Season 5.

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