I just wanted to write up an update on the state of the shaman class in the WOTLK beta right now. First, I've gotta say that I'm NOT in the beta. Don't want to be. So keep that in mind. Also keep in mind that because this is a beta, things are going to change.
There have been a lot of very interesting changes in the Enhancement tree that make it very appealing to an Elemental shaman, to the point that we probably don't need to go into Resto anymore.
Ancestral Knowledge is finally useful, since it'll increase our Intellect by 10%, instead of our mana by 5%. The old AK sucked a whole lot, and this change helps us not only with mana, but with spell crit too. And, of course, that extra Int is going to make Unrelenting Storm more powerful.
They moved Elemental Weapons up to Tier 3, so we Elementals can grab it for that 30% increase to Flametongue's spell damage buff.
Shamanistic Focus now just reduces the mana cost of all Shocks by 45%. For one talent point. Holy crap, this is great for Elemental shamans (especially now that we're going to be using Flame Shock more often, and Wind Shock in dungeons), but probably lackluster for Enhance shamans.
Totems will now last for 5 minutes instead of just 2. I don't think they're increasing their mana cost either (it's hard to tell now that most spells cost a percentage of your base mana instead of a set amount). This is a great change, but it does make Totemic Focus MUCH less attractive. Who cares about 25% off totem cost when they last for 5 minutes?
I've pretty much decided that I'll be foregoing putting anything into Restoration, and will put at least 14 points into Enhance.
Lava Flows has been back in for a while (replacing Paralysis, which I'll miss) and it looks pretty good. Increasing the range on Flame Shock is basically essential now, since we'll be using it in our casting rotations to make sure that Lava Burst crits every time it's cast. And the fact that this talent also increases Burst's crit damage by 24% means that Blizz pretty much expects you not to cast Burst without Flame Shock up on your target. Which also means that Lava Burst is probably going to be pretty weak and/or expensive when it doesn't crit.
Lava Lash is a new Enhancement talent. Looks pretty cool, and I think it'll finally put an end to putting Windfury on both weapons in favor of WF/FT. It's really weird that Flametongue will be so useful to both Elemental and Enhance shamans now. I wouldn't be surprised if they broke it into 2 separate spells, especially since Blizz has said that they don't want Enhance to be as focused on +spell dmg as they are in the beta right now. So, does this basically mean that Enhance shamans will be looking for slow weapons in the off-hand slot? Maybe they already do. Lava Lash will also work well with the changed Stormstrike (see "The Meh" below).
We finally have a "Wind Shock" spell. It's just an Earth Shock that doesn't cause any damage, and costs less mana. This was added as a replacement for Rank 1 Earth Shock, which many shamans (myself included) have been using for interrupting casting in dungeons, and in fights when we run low on mana. Wind Shock costs less mana, but not less than Rank 1 ES does now. Oh, and it also reduces threat. We finally have an active threat-reducer!
Earthen Power causes Earthbind Totem to remove all snares from any friendly player in its range when it pulses. That's pretty cool. Kinda like an old idea I had a while back, where certain talents could give certain totems the ability to cause opposite buffs/debuffs to friends/enemies.
I really don't like what they've done with group buffing mechanics. Sure they're all raid-wide now, but they've made them all much more lame. In their effort to ensure that some classes aren't favored over others because of the group buffs they provide, Blizzard has made all group buffs much more generic. Just look at our poor Elemental Oath. I thought it was pretty cool when EO caused a 6% mana-cost-reduction buff as well as a 6% spell crit chance increase, but now it's just 5% spell crit chance without the mana reduction. Booooring. Not only that, but it doesn't stack with the Moonkin aura.
Generalized group buffs do help to prevent certain classes from being favored over other classes, but Blizzard could've solved that problem without having to make things more generic. Definitely a big disappointment in an otherwise awesome expansion.
Storm, Earth, and Fire was changed again. Instead of providing a needed bonus to our primary nuke, it now reduces the cooldown on Chain Lightning. Personally, I'd rather have the LB bonus, but I'm sure a lot of PvPers would prefer the CL bonus.
Spirit Link has been replaced by Riptide. I really liked seeing Spirit Link added to the game, since it's a classic WC3 spell (the Spirit Walkers had it) but it may have been a victim of the aforementioned group buff normalization - if Blizz can't give this buff to more than one class, nobody can have it. Pfft. Riptide does seem like it'll be pretty cool once the kinks are worked out. It's nice that they're giving Resto a HoT finally (besides the one that procs with Earthliving Weapon).
Stormstrike will only affect attacks made by the shaman who cast it. This is good, because it means that Rogue poisons won't eat up the charges anymore. But it's bad, because Elemental Shaman and Balance Druid nukes won't eat up the charges anymore. Also, Stormstrike affects Fire and Frost spells in addition to Nature now, which is cool.
Thunderstorm is an awesome PvP talent. But, that knockback can cause a lot of problems in dungeons. I think it'd be nice if it were split into two spells: one with the damage and knockback, and the other with the damage and mana-restoration. Or maybe a new spell could be added that would freeze enemies in place so they're not knocked back when Thunderstorm is used. I wonder, does a Mage's Frost Nova prevent enemies from being knocked back?
Stoneclaw Totem will protect your totems from being destroyed, which is cool. However, having it out prevents you from having any other Earth totems out, of course. It's a trade-off. Not something I'll use all the time, but a good option to have.
Things that still need to be addressed
Elemental looks kinda boring next to Enhancement now. Enhance shamans will be attacking, shocking, stormstriking, lava lashing, lightning shielding, casting instant nukes, and summoning wolves. Elemental in dungeons, however, will just be nuking and shocking, but with 2 nukes now instead of one (which is definitely needed, don't get me wrong). It'd be nice to see a new spell or something in the Elemental tree to make things more interesting. Elemental in PvP will be a bit better thanks to Thunderstorm, but that spell is very problematic everywhere else. Hell, I'm seriously considering going Enhance in WOTLK.
From what I understand, Elemental DPS is pretty low in Beta right now. But Blizz has said they're working on that, so I'm not too worried.
I'm a bit concerned about our Fire totems. We Elementals pack a lot of damage with our Searing, Fire Nova, Magma, and Fire Elemental totems, but in dungeons we use them a lot less, so we can use Flametongue and Totem of Wrath. This has been true since the beginning, but it still bothers me. I'd like to see those two totems changed to a different totem category, with Fire reserved exclusively for damage-dealing totems. However, the existing 3 totem categories are pretty crowded already. Maybe it's time to add a 5th totem category, like the theoretical Spirit totem that has been alluded to a few times in the past. Now that totems last 5 minutes, it won't be as much of a hassle to keep 5 going at once.
Here's a crazy idea. When all 5 totems are down, the shaman gains "Elemental Form". The shaman levitates and is covered in a blue aura with lightning bolts coming off it. Think Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen (see image at the top of this post). As a result, we get a damage buff or something. It should only work if you're within 40 yards of your totems, and should probably last for about 15 seconds if one of your totems is destroyed (so you're not constantly jumping in and out of Elemental Form each time a totem is destroyed).
Yes, I know that Captain Planet is also blue, and also levitates, and this would inevitably be labelled "Captain Planet Form", but I don't care. It's Dr. Manhattan Form, dammit!