I will try to make this as easy as possible to scan through and read, so each of us can get the most out of it. Any additions are welcome.
Blizzards definition: Shaman are the spiritual leaders of their tribes and clans. They are masters of the elements, using spells and totems that heal or enhance their allies in battle while unleashing the fury of the elements upon their foes. Shamans can wear medium armor, and even wield massive two-handed weapons in combat. They are a versatile class that can wade into battle, restoring their allies while hurling elemental bolts of lightning at their enemies.
The Shaman class is arguably one of, if not the most complex and challenging class in the game. With a wide-array of healing, support and damage spells and abilities they can bring a lot of help to a party or raid. They are rare however, and only occupy about 6%-7% of the active playerbase. Unfortunately, as of the TBC expansion pack, Shaman is no longer what many of us consider a combat hybrid and is more or less forced to spec into a specific play-type, rather than be an asset on all fronts.
Quite possibly our best and worst class trait is the same thing, our totems. Totems provide passive yet powerful and often unique buffs and support to us and our party for a somewhat limited amount of time, and have a short but effective range. No matter what our spec, make sure to lay your totems for the group benefit, either to buff the melee or give spellcasters some extra oomph, we are there to assist where we can. Arguably due to some recent changes in the mana-shield talent and mana-spring totem, we regain mana far faster than other classes and have some of the best mana efficiency for raids in the game. Our primary purpose is to support our party no matter what our spec.
The one you would rather look at for all those levels.. But lets take a look at each of the different racial strengths as they pertain to the Shaman class;
Taurens - +5% HP, War Stomp - One of what most believe to be the better choices, mostly due to this race compensating for a large weakness in the pvp aspect of the class with an AoE stun move in Warstomp. Allowing for a quick escape or a much needed breather to cast a heal, etc, and you can't go wrong with 5% extra HP.
Trolls - Berserking, HP Regeneration, Beast Slaying - While Beast-slaying really only applies to PvP vs pets or druids at max level, it can be an effective talent while leveling and should not be quickly overlooked. The HP regen while effective, is mostly minimal but grows over time. Berserking is an interesting talent, that provides a good haste bonus depending on your HP level and is great for helping with Burst potential, both healing and DPS.
Orcs - Blood Fury, Hardiness, Axe Specialization - One of the better of the 4 available races in PvP due to the Hardiness Trait, a passive 15% stun duration reduction. Very invaluable against any class that stuns often. Blood Fury also acts much like a Spell Power bonus trinket. Axe specialization can also be useful for the melee Shamans, both leveling and endgame, offering bonus Expertise.
Draenei - Gift of the Naaru, Inspiring Presence - The only Shaman with an available Heal over Time spell as a racial talent that does scale with your +healing or your Attack Power, whichever is higher. Also boosts you & your entire parties spell hit% by +1. And is currently the only race available to Alliance Shaman.
Shamans have 3 talent trees, Elemental (Ranged, magic DPS), Enhancement (Combat, Melee DPS), and Restoration (Healing and support).
Elemental offers an array of damage producing and enhancing abilities as well as several buffs to your most important damage spells. Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning and Lava Burst. This tree is effective at pumping out max amounts of burst damage and handles it's mana pool well. A solid PvE and PvP tree for ranged dps.
Enhancement is a Melee oriented tree that focuses primarily on close combat and enhancing totems and group buffs. A solid addition to any raid melee dps group, Enhancement Shamans can be very very effective and efficient damage dealers. Shamanistic Rage (the 41 pt talent) helps to keep any raiding Enhancement Shaman full on mana for long grueling fights and helps reduce incoming damage in PvP.
For people interested in reading more about Enhancement, the math behind the numbers, the mechanics and the other stuff, go ahead and check out The collected works of theorycraft on the Elitist Jerks website. Contains everything you'd ever want to know including the Windfury cooldown and tips & tricks to max out your DPS.
Restoration, or the healing tree is often looked at as the raiding tree, and gives incredible buffs to mana longevity and support throughput. Almost every single talent in the tree is helpful or useful in some way either PvE or PvP. Resto Shamans also get several buffs to the best AoE heal in the game, Chain Heal. It only hits 3 targets (4 with a glyph) but the amount of healing is very mana-efficient. A very good healing class with great mana efficiency.
Given your spec you should look for the stats that most benefit that playstyle. Elemental Shamans should focus on primarily Hit rating, Spell damage & Spell crit then Intellect and MP/5. Restoration Shamans should focus on +Healing, MP/5 and Intellect, but keep a good mix of all 3. Enhancement Shamans should focus on Attack Power/Agility, Critical strike rating and Hit rating to max their effectiveness.
Its generally recommended to use a 2H weapon while leveling up your Shaman. Especially with the early addition of the Windfury weapon buff at 30. All Shaman now have the ability to wield 2H weapons no matter what spec they choose. After enhancement Shamans reach 40, they have the opportunity through talents to learn to dual-wield 1H weapons, which is also a powerful option. Restoration and Elemental Shamans should use a 1H+Shield in most situations.
Elemental PvE - The Raiding build, some talents can be switched depending on preference, this build allows for flexible choice of gear due to the talents+totem granting you enough +spell hit for your Shaman not to have to gear for it.
Elemental PvP - One of the choice PvP builds, gives solid defense against stuns, fears and silences with Astral Shift and gives additional burst potential with Elemental Mastery. This build can also be tweaked depending on preference.
Enhancement PvE - A solid functional Melee build, gives great melee buffs and abilities to Shamans and vastly increases their potential DPS output. This is a personal spec of choice, and close variations of it also work well.
Enhancement PvP - A standard PvP spec, though it can be tweaked at will, depending on your needs or wants. It offers some nice defensive talents and survivability while focusing on burst DPS (Kind of our niche) Trust me and other fellow Shamans - Toughness is not as good as it looks.
Restoration PvE - Mostly for Raiding, this build gives the most powerful buffs Restoration offers to your mana efficiency and healing potential.
Restoration PvP - Another similar build, however focuses more on the PvP aspect of Resto Shamans. Now with Riptide, our mobility has increased to an extent, and RT also provides the Tidal Waves buff, which grants 30% haste for the next two Healing Waves or Lesser Healing Waves. The common strategy these days is RT > LHW > LHW, and repeat, along with anything else you may be doing. (Shocking, totems, etc) In the upcoming patch 3.2 the talent Tidal Waves is getting a redo, no longer granting haste to LHW.
Short answer - Yes.
Long answer - Each player is ultimately responsible for how 'good' his or her class will be in a PvP environment. As most Shaman realize, we have some rather obvious deficits in a PvP aspect in respect to other classes, however it is not uncommon for many Shaman to succeed nonetheless. Remember that we are a group oriented class and will almost always do better in a group PvP setting rather than one on one encounters.
It depends on the makeup, and the tank. Realize that buffing your own DPS may not be the best benefit for the group and compensate for it. If you have a five man group, I tend to add up the numbers of what there are. I'm the healer, 3 melee DPS and the tank? Windfury for sure. I usually judge it from the DPS, since I put good faith in tanks and healers to not need the melee haste or the spell haste. 2 melee DPS? Windfury. 2 caster DPS? Wrath of Air. That's for the Air slot, but you get the picture. Whatever benefits the group the most. In raids there may be more than one Shaman, so sometimes just coordinating which you'll lay (so no overlaps, therefor wasted totems) can be the best. Keep in mind not all totems are raid wide. Healing Stream is one of them. Be careful with your Fire totems, they can sometimes target CC'd enemies and cause them to break early.
It's generally agreed that it's easiest to level as Enhancement spec, but if a different playstyle suits you, no one is going to stop you from speccing that way. Reason being is that Enhancement offers a virtually mana-free combat spec, using your mana mostly for heals or shocks, saving you lots of downtime while leveling. It's also easier to obtain melee oriented gear at lower levels. Once you get to Outland though (58+) Elemental gear becomes more common, and you can level as Ele up to 80 without a problem.
Each of your totems uses a spot in your bags, make sure you always have 4 slots to keep them in and do not throw them away or destroy them. Also be aware that you can only have one totem of each type - Air, Earth, Water, Fire - down at a time up to four total. Most totems are on a 5 minute timer and are immobile. Most totems have only 5 HP, making them easy targets. (In a future patch, totem HP may be 10% of the Shaman's HP) And as with any class keep up on your gear and enchantments and make sure to repair when necessary.
Ankhs. You need these to be able to self resurrect after you die and are a great help to all Shamans. They stack in 10s, recommend that you always carry some in your bags. Also be aware that Water Walking and Water breathing also cost reagents to cast, so carry Fish Oil and Shiny Fish scales to be able to cast those buffs as well.
This is a current work in progress, and is made as an addition to the current FAQs and Guides that are currently available. All changes will be read, noted and reviewed for accuracy to promote the best option available.
Thanks for being part of the Shaman community!