Sunnier Note: This is a guest post from Daught from Midwinter-Sargeras, one of the few brewmasters who has claimed a victory against heroic Lei Shen. If you would also would like to contribute to this blog as a guest, I would love to hear from you!
Historically – up to and including the last expansion – tanks have never been terribly high on the damage meters except for specific aoe encounters. But in MoP where vengeance has been effectively uncapped, tanks are often competitive dps for most fights. This leads to a slight conundrum, especially for the agility tanks: should I gear for dps or survivability? There is no easy answer to this question, but it’s a topic that is worth exploring.
Damage or Survival?
For most guilds, there are two phases to learning a new boss fight: learning and executing. When you’re in the learning phase, anything you can do to prolong the fight is better for the raid. During this phase I would advise and emphasize survivability. For brewmasters, this is generally maximum mastery/stamina. Once your guild learns how the fight works, and knows what to do in every portion to continue to the next, then it’s a matter of execution. At this point, you may consider gearing for additional damage to help meet any dps checks, or to simply make the fight shorter and decrease the number of mistakes. If you’re in a heroic raiding guild, however, the learning phase and the execution phase are often entwined - you’re learning as you’re executing and there’s no clear divide telling you when it’s okay to redo your gear. Furthermore, it’s quite expensive and time consuming to continuously regem and reforge for each encounter.
For these situations, my advice is to simply go with your maximum survivability gear all the time until you’re on farm. I personally reforged every stat I could into mastery and gemmed mastery + stamina all the way until this week when we killed heroic Lei Shen. Depending on your level of gear, content, healing situation, and whether you raid 10 or 25m, you may opt to start swapping out survivability stats earlier, but I firmly believe that in almost every situation you find yourself in, survival gear will almost always ensure a faster kill on your current progression target than dps gear. A quick look at some of the heavier hits tanks sustained during our first kills:
[21:37:44.629] Horridon hits Daught 258582 (A: 424991)
[21:37:47.344] Horridon hits Daught 253712 (A: 382930)
[23:16:04.205] Horridon hits Daught 333226 (A: 5290648) !!! - Berserk
[22:26:56.179] Frost King Malakk Frigid Assault Daught 84093
[22:26:56.179] Frost King Malakk Frigid Assault Daught 84093
[22:26:57.198] Frost King Malakk hits Daught 49309 (A: 100224)
[22:26:57.198] Frost King Malakk hits Daught 101794 (A: 206906)
[01:47:00.143] Ji-Kun Talon Rake Daught 193698 (A: 804356) (2 stacks)
[01:49:07.327] Ji-Kun Talon Rake Daught 126903 (A: 594727) (2 stacks)
[22:38:16.052] Durumu the Forgotten hits paladin tank 400896
[22:38:20.552] Durumu the Forgotten hits paladin tank 326034
[01:41:07.297] Primordius hits Daught 161413 (A: 244737)
[01:41:08.407] Primordius hits Daught 177124 (A: 268557)
[01:41:09.279] Primordius hits Daught 159964 (A: 303775)
[02:00:31.613] Massive Anima Golem hits Daught 239281 (A: 465963)
[02:00:37.659] Massive Anima Golem hits Daught 201522 (A: 500509)
[02:00:47.409] Massive Anima Golem hits Daught 271916 (A: 391167)
[23:59:33.942] Lei Shen hits Daught 161384 (A: 562411)
[23:59:35.506] Lei Shen hits Daught 159368 (A: 555384)
Given the size of these hits, I may very well have died multiple times during these kills if I had emphasized crit over mastery. Again, if you are raiding 10s instead, you may find that all-out survival is not the best option.
Gone are the days where tank damage was irrelevant except the necessary minimum to hold threat. Tank damage is now a very real and very important element of your overall dps breakdown. This is still true for 25 man raids and even more true for 10 man ones. Brewmasters in particular excel in aoe damage, and is a huge percentage of the raid’s dps on targets such as Horridon adds, Tortos bats, Durumu ice walls, Twins’ lurkers, and Lei Shen ball lightnings. It is vitally important to every tank who wishes to be the best they can be to maximize their damage in this current tanking paradigm. Furthermore, brewmasters in particular do more healing with more damage going out as well.
There are generally two ways to improve damage, as most dps players can attest. One is to simply tailor your gear towards more damage and increase your damage potential. In our case, this means cap expertise and hit, then maximize crit. However, this comes with the downside of making us more vulnerable to tank damage. The other method is to increase the level of play - fulfilling higher percentages of that damage potential. While this is definitely trickier to pull off, it will not only improve your damage at no cost to survivability but most likely will even improve tanking elements such as shuffle/power guard uptime due to the greater emphasis on mechanics.
How much damage would a tank expect to pull off for Throne of Thunder encounters, you might ask. Well, here are some representative meters for our first/early heroic kills in this zone. Now, I don’t claim to be the best damage brewmaster ever, and these numbers will most certainly be beaten (if they aren’t already) by those attempting to rank on these fights, but I think these logs are indicative of what tanks can do for their progression kills, in a 25m scenario at least, by a fully survival oriented tank (Rough stats - ilvl 525, 11k mastery, 5-6k crit, 3-4k haste, expertise/hit hardcapped):
As you can see, tanks do a truckload of damage even in full survival gear.
Some basic damage advice – obvious, but important nonetheless:
Use the right talents for the right fight. Zen Sphere/Chi Burst for Tortos, Chi Burst for Lei-Shen, Chi Wave for everything else. Rushing Jade Wind for Horridon, Tortos, Megaera, Durumu, Primordius, and Lei-Shen, Xuen for everything else. Note: of those, I only chose RJW for Megaera, Durumu, and Primordius solely because Xuen is currently bugged on those fights to rarely/never use his special attack. When/if that bug is fixed, Xuen will be the superior option.
Hard cap expertise and hit. Accuracy stats are great for both offense and defense, there is really no reason to not raise them to cap. Doing so also reduces the RNG factor on the most important role in the fight. In terms of rough dps values, 1 exp/hit = 1.5 agi = 2 crit = 6 haste.
Always be attacking something. If you’re about to pull aggro over the offtank after a taunt swap, ask for a Hand of Salvation instead of stopping your attacks. If you need to move somewhere for a mechanic, rush back into range with Tiger’s Lust (which, incidentally, I run with almost all the time now - it’s the best raiding movement talent for us).
Don’t cap out energy or chi. This one is obvious but somehow tricky in execution especially when using Spinning Crane Kick. For example, when you’re aoeing, make sure to use Breath of Fire or Blackout Kick as you’re spinning to avoid capping out on chi. This is something that even I need to work on as often times I realize that Keg Smash just came off cooldown and I have to delay it because I have 4 chi already. Possibly also bind /cancelaura Spinning Crane Kick into Keg Smash as well.
Fill up every gcd with something to do. In the Brewmaster’s case, this basically means spam Tiger Palm. Too many brewmasters simply wait for the next 40 energy to use their ability and only use Tiger Palm when their Tiger Power is about to fall. Don’t do this - Tiger Palm should be your most often used ability in most fights.
Advanced Damage Tricks
Get a vengeance meter to game vengeance as much as you can, as essentially every trick to increase tank damage beyond the basics relies on vengeance manipulation. Here’s the basic outline of how vengeance works: when you take targeted damage (many aoe pulse effects don’t affect vengeance), a percentage of that damage is converted to attack power. Every time you take such damage, your vengeance is constantly refreshed: old vengeance - decay + new vengeance. Decay is 5% per second. There is also a complex mechanism that raises your vengeance to a high percentage of the vengeance you would have after tanking a boss for 20 seconds on the initial hit or two instead of a gradual ramp-up.
On tank swap fights with more than 20 seconds between swaps, do a mini-swap every time vengeance is about to drop. This involves taunting, taking a hit or two, then having the current tank taunt back all without any tank debuffs being applied. This ensures you always have vengeance all the time - it may not be as high as actually tanking but it’s fairly close. Warning: do not do this often enough to cause an immune DR for taunt.
After a tank swap and you’re not actively tanking, avoid as many secondary effects as you can. Anything that updates your vengeance is bad. For example, on Lei Shen, after the other tank taunts, I avoid soaking bouncing bolts or being hit by thundering crash. My 120k vengeance instantly dwindles to anywhere between 10-50k if I am hit by one of these abilities. Warning: do this only if you are sure you’re not needed to soak such spells - executing a mechanic correctly trumps damage in nearly every case.
Use Fort Brew, Diffuse Magic and Zen Meditation to survive high damage abilities that would otherwise kill you to shoot your vengeance up to a high degree. There aren’t many such mechanics in this tier, but try surviving a giant sand trap on council after the melee mobs are dead or zen-med’ing a decapitate on Lei Shen.
If your cooldowns are available, feel free to “fail” mechanics that make you take more damage. Running through the anima rings on Dark Animus or tanking Lei Shen with the decapitate buff still up are such examples - if you ensure you can survive them and your cooldowns are not needed elsewhere, then the extra damage is welcome.
Save Xuen, and possibly hold Keg Smash/Chi Wave/Chi Burst/Rushing Jade Wind for when your vengeance is high instead of low. Remember, you have about 30-40k attack power baseline. If you’re at 0 vengeance, it’s often better to hold a big damage ability for a few seconds than to use it immediately if you know you’re about to shoot up to 100k+ soon.
For those who have the legendary meta-gem available, the dps version is ridiculously overpowered as it scales with attack power and as tanks play with a ton of vengeance, even without a high proc multiplier, it’s around 10% of our overall damage on single target fights. I would heavily advise using the dps gem on any encounter you feel confident enough to survive without the tanking meta-gem, which is also very good in its own right.