Vengeance and Brewmasters are two vastly different tanking specializations. Everything from their active mitigation to their fantasy are at odds, but despite that, many brewmasters are thinking of trying the new cool thing, so here is how they compare.
(This is not a guide that’s going to tell you what class is objectively best. That changes with balance tuning, and I’ve always encouraged people to play what they want. You’ll do the best playing the class that you’re motivated to master. This guide is just to help you figure out what that class might be.)
Demon hunters and monks could not be more different on the story side. Monks are usually calm, light-hearted, mentally balanced people. Inheriting from the Pandaren, you can expect them to be optimistic and wise. If brewmasters have a universal vice, it’s the alcohol, but even that is framed as a joyful pastime. The prototypical brewmaster is Chen Stormstout, a jovial explorer who travels Azeroth to find more interesting ingredients for his famous brews.
As for demon hunters, those people are messed up. In the Warcraft novel Illidan, the training process for new demon hunters is fleshed out with gruesome details. The types of elves drawn to the class always have a grudge against demons, and they don’t handle it well. One elf women carries around her chest the scorched corpse of her baby who was burned by the Legion. Another elf is known only by Needle because his mouth and eyelids are sewn shut and he uses a needle to draw, and then consume, his own blood. These are not healthy people.
Where a brewmaster’s drive will be something open-ended like experiencing the wonders of the world or exploring, a vengeance demon hunter has one eponymous goal, and they are lost without it.
So in other words, if you love Mei, you will probably love brewmasters, and if you love Reaper, you’ll probably love vengeance.
If you want to read more about the flavor of each spec, see my “Why Play This?” guides.
Active Mitigation – Damage Reduction
For Vengeance, we have Demon Spikes, which reduces damage based on mastery and increases your parry by a moderate amount. For Brewmasters, we have Ironskin Brew and Purifying Brew. Generally, Demon Spikes is less flexible than brews, though brews are restricted by their shared resource.
Brews make up the core of the Brewmaster rotation — everything they do is either investing in brews or planning around their use. On the other hand, Demon Spikes is more of a footnote to the Vengeance rotation. It’s important, but doesn’t interact with other abilities in the same way brews do.
Ironskin Brew also reduces magic damage, whereas Demon Spikes works only against physical. Demon Hunters have other tools for magic, like passives, cooldowns, and reliable healing, but reducing sustained magic damage is a clear strength of brewmasters in Legion.
There’s also the matter of preparing for damage, which Brewmasters excel at. They can use Ironskin Brew right as they pull, since they usually start out with full AM resources, whereas Vengeance must generate Pain first. Vengeance does have the ability to prepare for damage once the Pain starts flowing, but Brewmaster totally rocks at it. It’s just the Brewmaster thing.
For similar reasons, Brewmaster damage intake is much smoother than Vengeance’s, though Vengeance can typically recover from burst damage more reliably with their healing. Brewmasters are more dependent on healers, but they make up for it by being easy to heal (both with their smoothing potential, and with Celestial Fortune).
Smooth or spiky really defines the differences between Brewmaster and Vengeance health throughout a fight, because they both exemplify the extremes. I predict that the biggest complaints from healers about new demon hunters will be their spiky, unpredictable health. Vengeance can reduce quite a bit of damage with enough mastery and Demon Spikes, but before they get the gear for that, they’ll have to take most of the damage up front and heal it rapidly.
If you prefer tight control over your damage reduction AM, with a smooth and easy-to-heal damage intake, then you might want to play Brewmaster. If proactive damage mitigation is less important to you than reactive healing, then you might want to play Vengeance.
Active Mitigation – Healing
The backbone of Vengeance’s rotation is Soul Cleave, and that skill alone provides most of their healing. It’s a hard-hitting, resource-consuming attack that is used frequently and heals for a moderate to large amount by itself (depending on how much pain is spent on it), plus a little bit extra healing from drawing in Soul Fragments. The dependence on Pain limits its use — you can’t cast two high-power Soul Cleaves in a row because you’d require more Pain than you can pool. There is some pooling ability in the variable Pain cost, such that if you know your health will drop soon, you can save up for a full-strength 60 Pain Soul Cleave. Soul Cleave also requires melee range.
Brewmaster active healing is Gift of the Ox, which procs based on damage intake. It is easily poolable, providing a very strong heal if the Brewmaster is given time to prepare. A Brewmaster can accumulate a large number of Ox orbs, which can be activated later when damage turns unmanageable. Like all other brewmaster mitigation, this mechanic turns calm tanking periods into preparation periods.
Both classes might seem similar with their healing orbs that drop on the ground, but in practice, they’re totally different. Vengeance healing orbs, Soul Fragments, are better thought of as a resource displayed on the ground. Soul Fragments spawn far away from the demon hunter, usually procced from Shear, and it’s unlikely you’ll want to run over to their location to pick them up. Instead, Soul Fragments get absorbed with Soul Cleave. Soul Fragments are relatively weak heals by themselves, and are valued for their quantity and additional effects, like minor damage reduction or a chance to enter Metamorphosis.
As readers of this blog may already know, Brewmaster healing orbs spawn to the immediate right or left of the monk, and are meant to be shuffled through as healing. They heal for a large amount, roughly 12% of your health. Similar to Vengeance, a Brewmaster can draw wayward orbs to them with Expel Harm, but resorting to Expel Harm is the exception, not the rule.
Vengeance and Brewmaster each have forms of passive self-healing, as well. With artifact traits and talents, Vengeance gets additional healing from fire damage and leaching. Brewmasters get Celestial Fortune, which has a chance equal to your critical strike to duplicate a portion of any heals that land on you (and the brewmaster gets healing credit).
Overall, Vengeance has stronger self healing, but they’re not as far ahead of Brewmasters as you might think. Brewmaster active healing is random-ish and infrequent, but powerful and exceptionally flexible. Vengeance heals are controlled and frequent, but limited by Pain generation and melee range. Brewmasters are better at burst healing if they have time to prepare and pool orbs, Vengeance is better at sustained healing, and their ability to pool healing is limited.
As seems to be the pattern, these specs are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to big defensive abilities with longer cooldowns. Brewmasters have very few large cooldowns, mostly relying on their active mitigation to keep them alive. They have Fortifying Brew, which is powerful, and then some talents, which fill specific niches and mutually exclusive with one another. Monks also have the situational Zen Meditation, which breaks on the first melee strike but is surprisingly effective against magic and casted attacks.
Baseline, Vengeance has Fiery Brand, Metamorphosis, and Empower Wards. They also have many talented cooldowns that aren’t mutually exclusive, like Fel Devastation and Nether Bond. However, what Vengeance has in quantity, it lacks in flexibility. All their cooldowns have a condition, like Fiery Brand being limited to a single target without talents, or Metamorphosis requiring interaction to provide half of its defensive bonus. Vengeance has a lot of cooldowns, but they need to have a plan for them.
For panic moments, like if you underestimated a crowd or messed up a mechanic, Brewmaster abilities win in versatility. Fortifying Brew will always be effective, even though it can’t be used often. Vengeance has better healing cooldowns, which are handy for panic moments, but they either take a few seconds to charge up that healing, like Metamorphosis (where you need to wait for pain to flow, and then spam Soul Cleave), or cost pain, like Fel Devastation.
Vengeance has more frequently usable cooldowns that are beneficial for regular spikey damage events, like something that happens every 30 seconds. In such a situation, demon hunters might plan out their cooldowns to cover all predictable events, whereas Brewmasters might plan out their resources and depend on their active mitigation instead.
The Brewmaster rotation is centered around building and spending brews, the name for the charges shared between Purifying and Ironskin Brews. Brews recharge naturally over time, but the recharge rate can be reduced by key rotational abilities like Keg Smash and Tiger Palm, which consume Energy.
The Vengeance rotation is centered around building and spending Pain. Pain is used for active mitigation, mainly Soul Cleave and Demon Spikes. It is generated by taking damage and rotational abilities like Shear. Those rotational abilities aren’t limited by a secondary resource, like with monks, but instead are only limited by individual cooldowns or the global cooldown.
Both Vengeance and Brewmasters have most GCDs filled. Baseline, Vengeance has Shear, so they always have something to fill every single empty space in their rotation. In fact, one of the big challenges of Vengeance is filling every single spare GCD with Shear because it’s very important for defense. In contrast, Brewmaster has a lot of GCD fillers, namely Blackout Strike, Breath of Fire, and Rushing Jade Wind if talented, but those fillers have small cooldowns which require some management.
With Vengeance, you don’t have many rotational cooldowns to manage, but it makes your baseline rotation pretty bland. However, that GCD filler is especially important.
If you don’t take Rushing Jade Wind as Brewmaster, then your rotation has less filler. Similarly, as Vengeance if you don’t take Felblade, you rotation is simpler, though obviously you still have Shear to hit.
Both tanks have their big AoE snap ability that they want to often, Keg Smash for Brewmasters and Immolation Aura for Vengeance. Brewmasters need to pool energy and use Keg Smash as soon as possible for optimal brew generation, whereas Vengeance’s Immolation Aura is free, and also generates resources.
As brewmasters have two resources, energy and brew charges, their rotation requires a balance between spending one without allowing the other to overflow. Vengeance has just Pain, and the only rotational limitation factor is the GCD and the opportunity cost of casting something that doesn’t generate Pain or Soul fragments in place of Shear.
Overall, Brewmasters have a busier rotation because they have to keep track of three or four cooldowns. Vengeance has just one cooldown to track in their baseline rotation (Immolation Aura), and beyond that just resources and the GCD for two other abilities (Shear, Soul Cleave). Both classes gain great benefits from proper management of those lesser, rotation-filling abilities.
Like all tanks, Brewmasters and Vengeance have multiple snap aggro AoE tools. Vengeance has Immolation Aura, which deals a large amount of damage on the initial cast, and a small amount of periodic damage for its duration. There’s also Soul Cleave, while an AM finisher, which also deals a large amount of AoE damage. They can pick up small groups at ranged with Throw Glaive, and bigger groups with Sigil of Flame, though neither of those abilities deals significant damage.
Brewmasters have their signature Keg Smash, which is mid-ranged and heavy-hitting, followed by Breath of Fire, which deals moderate upfront damage followed by minor damage over time. What AoE variety a brewmaster lacks baseline, they make up for it in versatility, especially with Keg Smash as a one-size-fits-all pickup tool. With talents, they can also choose Rushing Jade Wind, which is an AoE that can easily be maintained constantly.
Beyond damage, each tank has their own ways of controlling enemies. Vengeance uses sigils. Sigil of Fire for ranged pickup, of course, but also the talented Sigil of Chains, for a short range gravity well, Sigil of Silence, for ranged AoE interrupts, and Sigil of Misery, for ranged AoE crowd control that breaks after a small amount of damage. Vengeance really excels at controlling many enemies at range, though each of these sigils is limited by a moderate cooldown.
Brewmasters have many unique control tools as well, especially among their talents. There’s the classic Leg Sweep, a relatively long-lasting, short-cooldown AoE stun. There’s Ox Statue, which is mutually exclusive with Leg Sweep but for the loss of a stun you gain easy ranged threat, enemy misdirection, and a full AoE taunt. There’s Chi Burst, useful for pulling groups at range or healing if you so desired.
If you’re looking for snares and kiting, Brewmasters have that in spades. Keg Smash reliably keeps a snare up at all times, and can be used at range. Combined with Roll and some mob management tools like Leg Sweep, and a Brewmaster can effectively run away from a group if things get dicey and be able to survive while wearing down the enemies or recovering health.
Demon Hunters have a talent that applies a snare to their melee attacks while Demon Spikes is active, and they can briefly snare with Sigil of Chains, but both are short term and unreliable. They can run away with Infernal Strike, but lack strong kiting tools on their own.
If you prefer having a large toolkit of niche AoE control, then Vengeance is your tank. If you prefer a small but flexible toolkit, with easy kiting potential, you want Brewmaster.
Both classes are really good at moving around the battlefield. With Roll, Brewmasters excel at evading danger quickly, such as rolling out of fire. In contrast, Vengeance has Infernal Strike, which is a flashy ground-targeted leap that also deals damage. Because they don’t have a targeting requirement, monks can react more quickly to danger with their movement than demon hunters, but demon hunters can move further. Roll also has a shorter cooldown and more charges, though Infernal Strike is not too far behind.
Beyond those signature abilities, each class can opt into even more mobility. Vengeance can talent into Felblade, which is a short-range charge used rotationally. They can also choose to add a moderate run speed increase to Immolation Aura. Brewmasters have a true sprint in their Tiger’s Lust talent. And of course, we can’t forget Transcendence, which allows monks to teleport to selected areas. Brewmasters also have an artifact trait that increases run speed speed whenever they use a brew, which means they are nearly always running a little faster than everyone else.
Overall, if you want to be able to run around fast all the time, leaving your enemies snared in your dust, then Brewmaster is the way to go. If you want precise and long-distance movement, you want Vengeance.
This is an easy category, because Vengeance wins hands down. They’re possibly the best soloing tank now. Vengeance has very strong self heals in Soul Cleave and all their passive abilities. Brewmasters have a random heal, Gift of the Ox, that does not proc much in the slow-hitting world of solo questing or legacy raids.
Brewmasters also don’t have good ways to reduce, as opposed to smooth, incoming damage, compared to Vengeance’s flat-out avoidance and damage reduction AM. While that makes Brewmasters work exceptionally well with a healer, they’re a little lost on their own. Delaying damage doesn’t do much good when damage is slow and you’re the only healer.
However, Brewmasters do have a heal they can use on themselves, Effuse, whereas Vengeance can only heal reliably while they’re hitting something. Brewmasters can also use this Effuse on other people, so they have a minor potential at hybridizing that Vengeance lacks.
If you’re a frequent soloer of difficult legacy content, then Vengeance is the way to go. That doesn’t mean Brewmaster can’t farm old raids, but they don’t have quite the same potential.
All specializations have their unique little aesthetics and quirks, so of course Brewmaster and Vengeance are no different. Demon hunters have their obvious character customization options, like horns, tattoos, and blindfolds, that make them acceptably demonic. Demon hunter armor is typically revealing, for both men and women, to better show off their magical protective tattoos. Legion leather transmog sets often have special appearances for demon hunters that reveal their tattoos and cover their eyes.
Demon Hunters are very grimdark, arming themselves with intimidating imagery such as skulls and demonic symbols. They wield twin crescent-shaped blades, the only tank to dual wield in Legion. Their color schemes tend toward black, fel-green, and purple.
As for Brewmasters, once they unlock their artifact, they gain a unique animation that rests their staff on their shoulders. This animation is present both while idle and in combat (though sometimes it doesn’t always work). The artifact, Fu Zan, has a lot of cool animations on its own, with dangling jugs and sometimes special effects for the unlocked appearances. (This is probably the best weapon in the game.)
Monks tend toward dressing themselves in simple robes, and favor crimson, yellow, jade green, and sky blue (the colors of the August Celestials). Their gear often has an Eastern influence, decorated with dragons or calligraphy or giant beads. They prefer easy-flowing clothing, and often wear face masks instead of standard helmets.
Brewmaster talents have themes, with each row fulfilling some sort of task, like resource generation or defensive cooldowns. That makes it pretty easy to pick talents based on content, as each talent usually fills a clear niche. However, that leaves some talents that become an optimization problem, i.e. decided by math. It’s pretty easy to adjust any brewmaster talent build to the content you’re doing. For example, you can usually use the same build for world content as for dungeons and do just fine. However, if you’re doing any sustained AoE as a brewmaster, there are one or two talents you should have.
Vengeance talents are much more disparate. While you could define a loose theme for each row, every talent in a row brings something unique to the table. That means that it’s less clear what choice goes well with what type of content because you’re often comparing apples to oranges. As the baseline Vengeance rotation is pretty simple, talents bring in a lot of complexity. Many choices change your rotation in dramatic ways. There are also quite a few talents that depend on artifact traits, so their value changes as you level up your artifact. I found it more difficult to use the same builds for different content.
If you’re a fan of picking a single talent build and only changing one or two depending on the fight, brewmaster might be a good choice. If you love creating unique builds and changing it up, vengeance might be preferable.