Searing Totem is a core shaman ability learned at level 16. It is a reliable source of extra damage, and is useful in situations where the other damage totem ([Magma Totem]) isn't and/or when the [Fire Elemental Totem] is unfeasible.
When dropped, the totem randomly selects an enemy within range and continuously attacks until A.) the totem expires, B.) the target leaves range or C.) the target dies. If B or C occur, the totem randomly chooses another target in range and begins attacking it. If there are no targets within range, it does nothing until an enemy comes in range. Also note that the totem only engages hostile targets on its own; it ignores neutral targets, unless you engage them first.
It is useful primarily in single-target, prolonged fights (EG: Boss Fights). You should avoid using it in situations where it could accidentally hit a target that shouldn't otherwise be hit (such as something that has been CC'd).
Very useful in PvP for an extra bit of consistent damage. Most players ignore the totem, knowing it will go away when you die.
Always useful in a boss fight, assuming the boss doesn't have adds which get CCed and the boss is not immune to fire.
Most of the time if you drop the totem while in melee, it will start attacking the target you have selected. This may be a function of closeness or may be a function of who you have selected at the time. It may simply pick the closest target when it doesn't have one.
It can be used to effectively disrupt spellcasting, especially in conjunction with melee attacks and a fast weapon. When combined with [Wind Shear], it can be difficult for an enemy caster to get out a spell.
Useful in PVP against another shaman. Searing Totem will often target and destroy the other shaman's totems.
0600Patch 6.0.2 (14-October-2014): Totems will no longer cause hostile creatures to enter combat with the Shaman based on proximity.; Searing Totem's Searing Bolt now has a 2-second cast time (up from 1.5 seconds), but casts faster with Haste, and its damage has been increased by 120%.
0500Patch 5.3.0 (21-May-2013): Will now chain cast spells with no delay between casts, allowing it to cast its spells more frequently in the same amount of time.
0500Patch 5.1.0 (27-Nov-2012): All totems are now considered spells, and summoning totems can be prevented by silencing effects. Searing Totem, Magma Totem, and Fire Elemental totems fall into the Fire school, while all other totems fall under the Nature school.
0300Patch 3.0.8 (2009-01-20): Searing Totem (Rank 4) now does the proper damage for its rank.
0200/0300Patch 3.0.2 (14-Oct-2008): All totems are now considered on the "Physical" school, and no longer magical spells.
0200Patch 2.4.0 (25-Mar-2008): The Global Cooldown of all Totems has been reduced to 1 seconds, down from 1.5 seconds.
0100Patch 1.11.0 (20-Jun-2006): Mana cost has been reduced.; This totem now receives increased damage from effects that increase the Shaman’s spell damage.