Chi Explosion is one of the new Brewmaster Talents coming in Warlords. It replaces Blackout Kick with a ranged ability that has stacking effects based on the number of chi used. A 4-chi Chi Explosion will: Deal damage (x amount for every chi consumed), apply Shuffle (10 seconds (2+2*number of chi)), Purify Stagger (3), and deal AoE damage around your target.
Let’s just jump right in: I don’t like Chi Explosion. But! I recognize that it’s probably here to stay, in one form or another, and that I should get used to it. I don’t like it because it drastically changes a rotation I love, it removes control for a dps trade off, and I don’t see much depth in it (maybe I’m missing something?). So in the spirit of trying to understand the talent, I’ll list both what I liked and didn’t like.
- New way to think about chi
- Lots of AoE damage
- Way to burn chi for dps
- Purifying Brew, as a reactive ability, does not feel right as a part of a skill that’s proactive by nature.
- Vast DPS increase, to the point where it’s not so much of a decision as it is a huge dps loss to choose anything else.
- Attack Power scaling (Chi Explosion) vs. weapon damage scaling (Blackout Kick) makes the magnitude of damage difference between the two confusing.
- Why would you want to use less than 4 chi on this ability, except to establish Shuffle on an opening?
- Loss of control via loss of chi pooling.
- Completely replaces Blackout Kick, and basically invalidates usage of Breath of Fire (a skill with an already tiny niche) and Purifying Brew.
- Change is scary
Change is Scary
Starting with this point, I acknowledge that my dislike of Chi Explosion might be mostly due to its newness. Chi Explosion has the potential to redefine the class significantly. Even if it is well balanced, such that we change our level 100 talents around quite a bit, that means that we have to relearn a new rotation and new resource management. Brewmasters will go from a fixed-cost resource to a variable-cost resource. Your thought process has to change from “do I have enough chi to use this skill?” to “which skill will I activate with however much chi I currently have, and is it a skill I need right now?”. I have played with it in beta, and while I have found some things to like about it, it still makes me sad. However, it’s still important to point out that my emotions may be biasing me.
What if it’s too good, and it becomes a default talent (which seems likely, when you imagine the niches that Soul Dance and Serenity will apply)? Those of us who grew to love the resource system will have to be coaxed into a completely different resource system. Or if you’re particularly stubborn, insist that the lower dps rotation is better and ignore all the judgement from others. With my experimentation in beta, Chi Explosion does significantly more damage per chi than Blackout Kick. It’s true that numbers have not been balanced yet, and this talent might fall prey to such modification, but it might not. Even if it is tuned to be more in line with Blackout Kick, it scales with attack power, meaning that it will not scale at the same rate as Blackout Kick. Chi Explosion may be our best dps choice in Tier 17, but a poor choice in Tier 19.
It also makes me wonder where a Brewmaster’s dps will be balanced. Will we be in line with other tanks without Chi Explosion, making us far better at dps with it? Or will we have subpar dps without the talent?
DPS vs. Survival as a Choice
On the surface, choosing between personal survival and personal dps is interesting. You can choose the dps option for easier fights, or make the sacrifice to personal survival to help the raid meet dps checks. But I don’t think it works well in practice. Just look at the legendary meta gems and cloaks. The DPS meta gem initially provided a huge damage increase for us, and it became the default choice. You were a bad tank if you took the tanking meta gem. It was then rebalanced so that the tanking gem became favored. It’s difficult to nail down the balance such that both are valid choices; one will almost always be the best.
On top of that, community pressures favor high dps. Survival is binary (you either live or die), while dps in linear (you can always do more). At some point, the survival becomes expected as default, which pushes you toward dps. That other guy can survive without pooling chi, so why can’t you?
I think the sweet spot for a survival / dps trade off is a less than 10% increase. Something about that two digit number convinces people that it’s a necessary boost, while single digit numbers make the boost seem small. If Chi Explosion were about a 6% damage increase (similar to the dps legendary cloak), I’d consider that an interesting trade off.
Level 100 brewmasters will potentially be playing a different game, and there’s no opportunity to gracefully learn the new rotation that comes with Chi Explosion as we level. That’s fine for moderate rotation changes, but Chi Explosion rips out our most often-used ability and replaces it with something completely different, and turns our resource system on its head. Blizzard doesn’t care deeply about the learning curve while leveling, but I still care. :(
Pooling and Loss of Complexity
It removes the ability to pool chi. This is probably the trade off that’s meant to happen with this talent. Gain dps, lose defense. However, pooling is such a subtle defense that it’s hard to weigh it against something so objective as dps. Many brewmasters don’t pool at all, so it’s not even a relative loss to them. On top of that, Chi Explosion sucks away complexity but does not add any beyond enforcing a new rotation. Since Chi Explosion only gets more powerful the more chi you use with it, there’s little depth in using less than 3 or 4. Keg Smash -> Jab -> Jab -> Chi Explosion, repeat, does not provide an engaging playstyle.
The depth I can see is the trade off of more frequent purifies vs. AoE, or more frequent purifies vs. longer shuffle duration. Both of those trade offs happen without the talent (blackout kick vs. breath of fire, or blackout kick vs. purifying brew), but it further obscures them. You do get a bit more damage per chi if you cast CE at lower chi.
For the record, here’s what you get when you spend 12 chi at different chi levels:
- With 12 uses at 1 chi: 24x damage (12 initial + 12 damage per chi)
- With 6 uses at 2 chi: 18x damage (6 initial + 12 damage per chi), 36 seconds of shuffle
- With 4 uses at 3 chi: 16x damage (4 initial + 12 damage per chi), 32 seconds of shuffle, 4 Purifies
- With 3 uses at 4 chi: 15x damage (3 initial + 12 damage per chi), 30 seconds of shuffle, 3 Purifies, 3 AoEs
How often do you need to combine Shuffle, a purely proactive type of mitigation, with Purifying Brew, a purely reactive type of mitigation? The former you must use before getting hit for it to be worthwhile, the later you must use after getting hit. In practice, this combining the two does happen quite a bit, but, as Purifying Brew is off the Global Cooldown, is not an issue that requires solving. What’s more problematic to me is forced combination of two very different skills without any gain except damage.
Without Chi Explosion, you can pool a chi or two and decide, independently of the rest of your rotation, whether or not you need to Purify. With Chi Explosion, you can either sit on 3 or 4 chi and try to time Purifying Brew for when you need it (losing dps and shuffle uptime), or you just Purify willy nilly. Chi Explosion works well for proactive use. You can say: “I know a big event is coming up, let’s build up 4 chi and use them in preparation”. But reactively, you can’t say: “Oh a bad thing just happend, let me build up 3 chi and recover from that” because that would take way too long.