When We Have Shuffled off this Mortal Coil

I can’t say we weren’t expecting this. Brewmasters have often enjoyed being strong tanks, but never to the degree we saw in Blackrock Foundry. High Stagger, brought about by unexpectedly high gear levels and our own excellent mastery, allowed Brewmasters to overcome mechanics that were quite challenging to other tanking classes. We were breaking mechanics, tanking things that weren’t meant to be tanked, and shrugging off attacks that required externals cooldowns on other tanks. Something had to change. What we did not expect was the magnitude and location of those changes.

Changes in Summary

For a complete but slightly out-of-date listing and clarification of 6.2 expected changes, read my post on the first draft of patch notes. The patch notes were updated again on April 15, so this post will reflect those new updates.

  • (-) 20% stagger (-10% lost from Ox Stance, -10% lost from Blackout Kick / Shuffle)
  • (+) 50% armor increase (roughly a 5% physical damage reduction)
  • (-) Serenity now lasts 5 seconds for Brewmaster Monks (down from 10 seconds).

The Shuffle / Purify Playstyle

The core changes can be summed up as reducing the importance of our regularly-used chi spells: Purifying Brew and Blackout Kick/Shuffle. Blackout Kick will still be where you dump chi for damage and a little avoidance, but it will no longer help with reliable damage reduction. The amount of damage we stagger will be harshly reduced, which means Purifying Brew will be less critical, and high staggers will be rare. We’ll still use Blackout Kick and Purify when we aren’t using Guard, but they won’t be nearly as satisfying as they are today.

I’ve always liked these skills because they require resource management. Elusive Brew and Guard obviously consume resources, but they don’t compete for them in practice. Elusive Brew works on its own stacking resource, independent of any other skill. Guard, while it technically shares chi with other skills, is strong enough to be in a different league entirely. You use it when you need a cooldown, and it usually takes priority over Blackout Kick and Purifying Brew.

But Blackout Kick and Purify consuming the same resource and were often at odds for that resource. Even when specced into Serenity, where chi became plentiful, the second-to-second decision of a reactive purifying brew if your stagger spiked vs. the damage and proactive damage reduction of Blackout Kick made regular play interesting. Of course, Shuffle was rarely difficult to maintain, but there is still gameplay there, as I wrote about a few months ago.

In 6.2, chi management will revolve around Guard, and even more so than today. We’ll only use Blackout Kick and Purify if we know we won’t need that chi for Guard. The chi gameplay between Purifying Brew and Blackout Kick will remain, but it won’t be one of your most important decisions. That does make the class easier to pick up for a beginner, since there are fewer things to worry about if you can safely ignore Shuffle and Purify in beginner content.

At first glance, I thought the real loss was here, with the unimportance of Shuffle vs. Purify. But after letting these changes simmer, I don’t think that’s the case. They’re less important, yes, but good Brewmasters will still need to manage them. And since we will no longer overpower content with high stagger, small defensive bonuses like a little avoidance or a little damage recovery will be more important than ever. It’s not like we can only use Chi on Guard, anyway. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to min-max these two skills. We could argue that this is unnecessarily simplifying the rotation, but the truth is that it was easy enough to survive in our overpowered, high-staggering state. Making us easier to kill will do more for keeping the high skill cap on Brewmasters than cutting down on required buff maintenance ever did.

What I will miss is the Stagger attached to Shuffle and Blackout Kick. Stagger itself is such a unique and interesting mechanic. The whole idea of not reducing damage but smoothing it felt fresh. Other tanks can increase their avoidance or block or heal themselves, but no other tank can stagger, and it was core to our gameplay. However, it’s hard to argue that a 10% damage smoothing aspect of a maintenance buff was truly engaging on more than a flavor level. With the loss of that aspect of Shuffle, Guard will be our only reliable proactive mitigation tool.

On top of reducing the importance of Shuffle and Stagger, the duration of Serenity has also been reduced. Serenity will give half as much free Shuffle, for which the talent was so highly valued. Before the nerf, Serenity was often chosen for its effect on ease of survival. Shuffle was important to maintain, and Serenity made it easier to do so, while giving you more opportunities to use Purifying Brew. But with Serenity halved, plus the reduced effectiveness of the skills it facilitated, it’s no longer a competitive choice. It will still increase the ease of survival, but to a far less potent degree. Chi Explosion and Serenity already felt like a fair trade off before these changes, but now the decision seems all too easy.

With how sad Serenity is now, Soul Dance is in an even weaker state. That talent was a rare sight before because it was only useful for an average of one boss per raid, and now it will smooth even less magic damage thanks to the stagger nerfs. My biggest concern right now is the balance of these three talents.

A Surprising Savior

What appeared to be a inconsequential simplification to the way Tiger Strikes procs is actually a very nice buff for Gift of the Ox. Since we brewmasters typically don’t have much multistrike to begin with, our chance of proccing Tiger Strikes will go up when it changes to a flat 10% chance to activate on auto-attacks. It also will increase multistrike by 40%, up from 25%. That ends up being a lot more healing orbs.

Also, since Ox Orbs both proc from Multistrike and can multistrike as they heal you (it’s unclear whether this is intended or not, since it’s technically double-dipping), that 40% boost to Multistrike granted by Tiger Strikes is significant. When Tiger Strikes activates, you’ll start generating many orbs and those orbs are likely to heal you for more. If you keep a careful eye on your procs, you can be a very efficient self-healer.

Link to more interesting notes on Multistrike improvements

A New Playstyle?

The expected effects of 6.2’s changes are:

  • Importance of regular chi skills will be reduced
    • Shuffle/BoK. Will be a place to spend extra chi for damage and a little avoidance.
    • Purifying Brew. The amount of damage staggered was harshly reduced, so high staggers (and thus, staggers that require Purifying Brew) will be rare.
  • Active Mitigation that remains important:
    • Guard: Still shields for a ridiculous amount at high resolve.
    • Elusive Brew
    • Gift of the Ox. Actually increased importance, since it will be proccing more, and our spikier health will likely need more self healing.
    • Expel Harm. Buffed through T18 bonus, and healing may be more important with spikier health.

Brewmasters can expect to change flavors from the tank that relies on resource-limited active mitigation tools to a tank that relies on time-limited active mitigation*. We’ll be much more vulnerable to spike damage, but have more access to self heals to recover. Our resource-based mitigation will be less effective, and act more as a nice boost we manipulate for that slight edge on mitigation, but it won’t be the great powerhouse of survival it once was. We will be more vulnerable to bad RNG, since stagger isn’t there to reliably smooth everything and Elusive Brew and Gift of the Ox are random. I don’t think this is a bad or good thing, and I can’t say for sure until I play with it in realistic circumstances for a while.

In practice, our active mitigation priority might look something like:

  1. Guard for reliable damage reduction
  2. Interweave Elusive Brew to reduce damage
  3. If you get hit and need to recover:
    1. Step on Ox Orbs if Tiger Strikes is active
    2. Expel Harm if Tiger Strikes isn’t active
  4. Purify high or moderate Stagger
  5. Keep the parry from Blackout Kick/Shuffle active

Which isn’t all that different than today. Besides the additional gameplay of timing Ox Orbs with Tiger Strikes (which also exists today but wasn’t very powerful), all that changes is the importance of each.

In addition, it’s entirely possible that these changes are intended to make the rest of our secondary stats interesting (that’s the reason behind many other changes). The value of haste and stamina, our traditionally avoided stats, actually go up (not by a whole lot, but, progress). Multistrike and versatility, which are tolerable stats on live, might become good stats. A lot of these stats will increase in value just because mastery will decrease, and weak stats still remain weak, just less so compared to the strongest secondaries. Here are the some recent simulations with more information.

Why can’t Blizzard buff other tanks, instead?

A couple reasons. The classical adage is that given a chair with five uneven legs, it’s easier to cut down the long one than make the other four longer. Changing one class is going to have fewer repercussions than changing four, and it’s simpler.

Being “overpowered” might be fun in the beginning, since content falls over more easily for you than for others, but in the long run it’s not an engaging experience. Buffing every tank to match brewmasters, and making tanking easier for every class is only going to make tanking boring.

Beyond that, our stagger was only going to get more ridiculous. Stagger (and mastery) is more effective the more you have, and in the next tier it was going to be even more overpowered than it is now. Stagger had to be reduced, in one way or another.

Things I Want

In summary, here is the constructive response I will give to the developers. I don’t care much about numbers, but playstyle is extremely important to me. If they can nerf us while keeping true to these things, then I’ll be a happy monk. Keep in mind we aren’t actually losing some of these things, but I just want to clarify that they’re important to me.

  • I want stagger / mastery to be of value. It doesn’t have to be the most valuable, but I want to care about it. I find stagger very interesting because it is our unique mechanic, and it makes me feel smart when I manipulate it well.
  • I want talent decisions between Serenity, Chi Explosion, and Soul Dance to be interesting and varied.
  • I want decisions on where I spend my chi to be interesting and important.
  • I enjoy the Brewmaster niche of having short-term (cd < 30s) access to all types of mitigation: proactive damage reduction, proactive avoidance, reactive healing, and shielding.
  • I enjoy Gift of the Ox and would like it to be important. (A thing that is actually improved after all these changes.)

Still Worried?

It’s easy to be all doom and gloom, but panic is not necessary where we currently stand. Sure, the initial nerf of 30% stagger loss was worthy of our terror, but at the 20% loss we have now, it’s not nearly so bad. Our playstyle will likely change a little, but our actions will remain very similar. We will have to work harder to stay alive, just like other tanks. It will probably still be fun (having to work for your survival is always fun.) I do think some more changes will be needed to alliviate other concerns, like viability between level 100 talents, but we will still be able to tank content just fine. If you still want more consolation, I recommend reading through the lastest posts on MMO-Champ by Totaltotemic and LeBlue.