Guide to Resto Totems
Totems are an iconic part of the shaman class. They are one of the main reasons I rolled a shaman back in the day, because I just like the idea of dropping little hunks of wood that do cool things for me. Which is why I laugh a little when I see shamans complaining about the totem system and arguing for its removal. Yes, totems take a bit of work to master and can be a bit annoying, but you’re willing to put up with that bare minimum of inconvenience, right? It could be worse.
The first thing you need is an effective interface to manage your totems. You do NOT want to be that shaman who has 3 action bars filled with nothing but totems, just in case you might want to click on one of them some day. It’s a waste of UI space, and you’ll never find the one you need in time.
The default totem UI has recently been reworked, and is not all that bad “as is.” I’ve gotten used to TotemTimers, however, and I like some of the added features, so that is what I’d recommend to a new resto shaman. We can now have up to 3 sets of totems ready to drop, and there is certainly a valid argument for creating a standard set, a PvP set, a melee oriented set, etc. However, I find that my totem lineup doesn’t fit very well into 3 pre-defined sets. So, I tend to stick with one set, and then manually adjust using TotemTimers during the instance or the raid.
Practically, this means that I have one keybind set to drop totems, and one set to recall them (new shamans: don’t forget to visit your trainer to learn these spells!). I use a Razr Naga (thanks Santa), so I bind these actions to N4 and N7, respectively. Please make sure you at least keybind Totemic Recall. When you hear the raid leader yell “Hey shamans, recall your totems!” the last thing you want to do is hunt for the icon on your bars. Hit your keybind, watch them disappear, and even get a little mana back for your effort. When you need to be mobile and re-drop your totems, hit recall first to save yourself some mana.
What I tend to do is have my baseline set of totems ready to drop with TotemTimers. If I want to change the baseline, I right click on Cleansing Totem, for example, and now that will replace Healing Stream the next time I drop my totems. For most heroics, or even raids, you’ll only need to change your totem lineup a few times. For me, this is much easier than maintaining several different totem sets for each occasion.
What is that baseline? For me it’s usually Flametongue (Fire), Stoneskin (Earth), Healing Stream (Water) and Wrath of Air (Air). Let’s talk about each school separately so you know when and why you’ll want to mix this up.
In a 5 man, this is Flametongue and forget about it. It’s a nice spellpower boost for you and the party, and if you want to do some DPS you can drop it up near the mobs and hit Fire Nova.
In raids your fire totem is often overwritten by more powerful buffs. I tend to just drop Flametongue, even if I have an Elemental Shaman dropping Totem of Wrath or a Demo Lock with their awesome spellpower buff. I figure maybe someone will get out of range of the elemental totem or something.
This means you can usually use your other fire totems no great loss. If the fight calls for frost resistance, go ahead and volunteer your totem. If you can help out with AoE and spare the mana, drop Magma Totem. If you want to add a little single target DPS at very little mana cost, you can drop Searing Totem. I should probably be dropping this more often in raids, since have an elemental shaman in the group.
Don’t forget about your Fire Elemental. They have been buffed and do very respectable damage. With a ten minute cooldown, you can pretty much drop him on every boss fight. Try to time your big ball of fire during a burst phase or when there are lots of little adds that need some AoE help. Remember that he will stay up for 2 minutes, so don’t wait until the last 30 seconds of the fight for the “perfect” moment.
This will usually be Stoneskin Totem, which stacks with a Paladin’s Devotion Aura. Extra armor is always nice for your tanks. If you don’t have a death knight or enhancement shaman in your group, then you can drop Strength of Earth. Strength of Earth is a great totem, but I think every random heroic is required to have a DK, so it just doesn’t see all that much use.
Earthbind is great when you need to slow something down, such as during Deathbringer Saurfang or Gluth back in Naxx. Keep in mind that this totem only lasts for 45 seconds, so you will have to refresh it fairly often. Tremor is great when you need to break fear, charm or sleep effects. Learning (and then remembering) when to drop it is key. Stoneclaw is great when … you’re doing PvP and don’t want to drop Earthbind or Tremor, I guess. You could pretty much take it off your bars for PvE.
Your Earth Elemental will try to fill in for the tank, but he’s not going to live long without some direct healing. Dropping him puts your Fire Elemental Totem on a 2 minute cooldown (and vice versa), so you can’t have both your buddies out at the same time. I find that Earth Elemental is not used all that often, but when I do use it, it can be a lifesaver. Did your tank just die on a stupid trash pull and you just need to deflect aggro for 5 seconds? Perfect time for Earth Elemental. Did your main tank bite the dust while the boss is at 1%? Can’t hurt to throw out your Earth Elemental and see if he can take a shot or two that otherwise would have killed a DPS, allowing you to maybe down the boss and avoid an aggravating wipe. While leveling, he’s a great help for difficult elite or group quests.
Your water totem will almost always be useful, and you’ll need to decide which totem is going to work best for each heroic, raid group, or even raid encounter. In a heroic, I’m usually using Healing Stream for a nice passive healing bonus. I generally only switch this up when the instance has a lot of poison or disease debuffs, when I will drop Cleansing Totem to save the hassle of doing it manually. Keep in mind that it will not remove curses, so you’ll have to do that with Cleanse Spirit.
I don’t often use Mana Spring in heroics, because mana is just not an issue anymore. This totem sometimes causes confusion in raids. I’ve heard lazy pallies say “we don’t need to buff wisdom, we have a shaman.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Mana Spring will provide the same Mp5 as a holy paladin’s Blessing of Wisdom, assuming they have it talented (which they may not have done). You will already have your totem talented, because you took Restorative Totems to get Mana Tide.
Here’s the rule: if you are a resto shaman and there are no paladins with improved Blessing of Wisdom, then you should probably drop Mana Spring. If there is a paladin with the improved blessing, you should probably drop Healing Stream instead. Especially if glyphed, your Healing Stream is doing some significant healing, and the paladin can provide the same Mp5 buff as you. Of course, things can get more complicated depending on how many paladins you have in the group. Paladins exist to make simple-seeming buffs complicated to apply. So, don’t just drop Mana Spring because some pug raid leader said you should. Make sure it’s the best use of your water totem slot.
Mana Tide is a great, party only, mana restoration tool. It will only last for 12 seconds and has a 5 minute cooldown, but will restore a nice chunk of mana while it’s out (fixed, thanks Reyneyn). When mana is an issue, make sure to drop it early in the fight at around 75%-80 mana, and then again when the cooldown is up. I like to use a simple macro to alert my party members that Mana Tide is up, so they can stay in range of the totem:
#showtooltip Mana Tide Totem
/p Wugan is Casting Mana Tide!
/s Wugan is Casting Mana Tide!
/cast Mana Tide Totem
Fire Resistance Totem is nice to have if you can’t cover the buff somewhere else, but since we have many other good water options, I’d let someone else volunteer to cover this buff if possible.
90% of the time, this will be Wrath of Air. The haste buff is great for us and for the rest of your party or raid. If you don’t have an enhancement shaman in your raid group, and another shaman can cover Wraith of Air, then you should drop Windfury Totem for the melee. Make sure to get close enough to the boss when you drop your totems that the melee are actually getting the benefit.
Nature Resist Totem is situationally useful, and if you don’t have a hunter that can provide the buff through Aspect of the Wild, then you may need to draw straws with the other shamans and see who will cover this one. Grounding Totem is a great PvP totem, and has some PvE uses, but I can’t remember that last time I’ve dropped it in a raid. Please tell my why I suck in the comments.
And the best for last, Sentry Totem, summarized best by Matthew Rossi:
Level 34 brings the awesome, senses shattering might of Sentry Totem. Do not look directly at the Sentry Totem. It can see into your very soul. You may very well drop this totem in a Warsong Gulch sometime, it’s just that powerful. Seriously, half the reason raids take shamans at all is that they covet the titanic power of Sentry Totem. Don’t listen to their pleas: only drop this totem as a last resort, as it may well make warlocks and mages obsolete by the sheer fury and majesty of its planet splintering power. Quake, mortals, and feel the iron grasp of despair upon you, for Sentry Totem may be unleashed by a shaman at any time! I will be able to watch from some distance away as you one shot my totem!
Raid vs Party Only
Finally, a quick note on raid vs. party only totems. This seemed to be a bit more confusing back in Naxx, and most raid leaders have figured this out by now. But, just in case, here are the totems that ONLY benefit the shaman’s current raid group.
Mana Tide (the 5 minute cooldown resto talent, not Mana Spring)
Now that you’ve read all that, go check out Blueberry Totem’s nearly identical guide that I only discovered after I had written almost all of this post. Oh well, great minds think alike.