Brewmaster Basics

This guide was written by Bearfu, one of the veterans on the Peak of Serenity Discord.
It can also be found as a thread on the Official WoW Forums.


Hey there. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either considering Chi Torpedoing a brewmaster or you’re looking to learn or improve on the fundamentals of the spec. Regardless of your skill level or purpose for clicking on this, sit down and grab a beer. Let’s talk about the fine art that is a brewmaster monk.


What we are

We’re tanks. We stand between things that want to hurt our group and we make them want to hurt us instead. Of course, we wouldn’t be a very good tank if we just held a mob’s attention until we died, so we have to have some way of handling incoming damage. Every tank has their own coping mechanism. Warriors and Paladins have shields. Druids have a massive health pool in bear form. Demon Hunters use the demon inside of them to fuel their defense, and Death Knights prefer to heal the damage they take back. How do brewmasters handle things, you ask? We drink.

Yes, beer plays a central role to being an effective brewmaster. Ironskin Brew and Purifying Brew are the two parts to a brewmaster’s active mitigation. Both of these allow us to manage our incoming damage, but before we go into how we handle our brews, let’s talk about Stagger.


Staggering around the battlefield

Stagger is basically our shield. Whenever we take damage, we take 60% of it up front while we take the remaining 40% of the damage over 10 seconds. Every time we take damage from any source other than Stagger, how much damage we have remaining on our Stagger DoT is recalculated. There are only three ways to clear Stagger: leaving combat, dying, or taking absolutely no damage for ten seconds. This means that in dungeons and raids, you’re almost always going to have Stagger because you’re always going to be taking some sort of damage unless you’re between pulls.

The above figures for Stagger only apply to physical damage. Stagger still protects us against magic damage, but it’s only half as effective. This means we take 80% of the damage up front, with the remaining 20% over 10 seconds. This can be improved with the Mystic Vitality talent, which we’ll discuss later on.

The default UI is fairly useless for Stagger, so you may want to find WeakAura strings or another addon to show you the information you need. The default UI doesn’t show Stagger beyond 100% of your max health, but there is no actual cap for how much damage you can be Staggering at any one time. The default UI also causes Purifying Brew to flash when you reach red Stagger, which is 60% of your max health. As we’ll discuss in the next section, red Stagger does not automatically mean that you need to purify. A good WeakAura string to use is the normalized Stagger aura from Rivers over at the Monk Discord:

It’s also worth noting that Stagger on its own cannot kill you. It can bring you down to one health, but Stagger itself cannot kill you despite what may be shown in Blizzard’s death recap window. If you’re somehow able to remain at one health and not take any damage from any other source for the remainder of your Stagger DoT, you’ll effectively remove a good bit of damage from the fight. This isn’t likely to happen in most cases, but it is an interesting quirk of Stagger that’s worth noting.


Ironskin and Purifying Brew

Ironskin Brew, or ISB, and Purifying Brew are how we manage our Stagger. The two abilities go hand in hand, and as such they share the same number of charges. This means that consuming a charge of Ironskin Brew also consumes a charge of Purifying Brew, and vice versa. This system may sound confusing at first, but let’s look at what each ability does.

The first part of our active mitigation management is Ironskin Brew. ISB strengthens our Stagger ability and is also the buff we must have active for any boss mechanics that require Active Mitigation. Ironskin Brew increases the amount of damage we Stagger by 40% for 6 seconds, causing us to now take 20% of our damage up front and the remaining 80% over 10 seconds. After purchasing all three ranks of the Potent Kick artifact trait, Ironskin’s duration increases to 7.5 seconds. Successive casts of ISB increase the duration of the buff, making it possible to have the buff active for the duration of a fight. Every brewmaster should strive to maintain 100% uptime on Ironskin Brew.

The second part of our AM management is Purifying Brew. Purifying Brew simply adjusts our Stagger DoT, completely removing 50% of the DoT entirely. Damage that has been purified will never be felt, making Purifying Brew a vital part of our survival. As a general rule of thumb, you don’t want to use Purifying Brew just because it lights up. The button will glow automatically upon reaching heavy (red) Stagger, but if your healers can keep you up you shouldn’t worry. You should, however, purify your Stagger after taking a large hit to give both you and your healers some breathing room. Purifying Stagger is arguably the hardest part of playing a brewmaster effectively, because if you purify too much you’re going to have fewer brews available to maintain Ironskin. On the other hand, not purifying enough means you’re taking more damage than you probably should. There’s a balance that needs to be struck, and that’s something you’ll get a feel for as you play as each healer and brewmaster’s comfort level varies.

Brewmasters are designed to take damage, and we have a good deal of control over when we take that damage. It’s perfectly fine for us to take more damage than another tank, because Stagger smooths our damage out over ten seconds. We’re not going to flattened right away by a Dark Slash from Ymiron or Fel Scythe on Gul’dan, so your healers have plenty of time to react and help get you healed back up if necessary.


Brew generation

Now that we’ve got a basic understanding of the core part of our mitigation, let’s look at how we fuel our drinking habit. We have a few different ways to generate brews, making those long cooldowns much shorter than they actually are.

Our first method is Keg Smash. Keg Smash has the highest priority in our rotation for one simple reason, and that’s the fact that it generates the most brews. Every time you land Keg Smash, the remaining cooldown on both Ironskin and Purifying Brew is reduced by four seconds. Those four seconds are critical to being able to have brews available when you need them, so you should never let Keg Smash sit around once it’s ready.

Our second method is Tiger Palm. It’s also our filler ability that we use when nothing else is available, but each cast of Tiger Palm is one second off of our brew cooldown. After buying three ranks of the Face Palm trait, Tiger Palm has a 30% chance to take an additional second off of your brew cooldowns. While the brew cooldown is important, you should never cast Tiger Palm if doing so would leave you without enough energy to use Keg Smash when it’s available next.

We also have one last option to generate brews, and that’s Black Ox Brew. Unlike Keg Smash and Tiger Palm, Black Ox Brew is a talent. Ox Brew instantly refills your energy and your brew charges with a 90 second cooldown, making it a very powerful talent choice. Black Ox Brew has the additional benefit of being a brew, so Keg Smash and Tiger Palm will shorten the cooldown for this spell.


Cooldowns and damage reduction

Like every tank, brewmasters have some cooldowns available to them to help mitigate heavy damage beyond just using our brews. We may not have any cheat death cooldowns like Paladins, but the cooldowns we do have available are strong in their own right.

First up is our biggest cooldown. Fortifying Brew may have a scarily long 7 minute cooldown, but let’s look at what all we get out of it. Fortifying Brew increases our current and maximum health by 20%, increases the amount of damage we delay with Stagger by 20%, and reduces all incoming damage by 20% for 15 seconds. Fortifying Brew is also a brew, so like Black Ox Brew we can reduce its cooldown with Keg Smash and Tiger Palm. The seven minute cooldown is actually closer to about three and a half minutes, so don’t be afraid to use it early if you need to. If you have the legendary boots or bracers, you can reduce this cooldown even faster. We’ll get into legendaries in more detail later, but it’s worth noting their use.

Zen Meditation is our other major cooldown. Every five minutes, you reduce all damage taken by 60% for eight seconds. There are some pretty hefty drawbacks to this cooldown, as you cannot move or cast while channeling Zen Meditation. Further, being hit by any melee attack will cancel your channel. You still get the benefit of the damage reduction from that hit, but you lose the channel. If you have the legendary helm, Zen Meditation’s cooldown is reduced by 50%. Further, you will be able to move while channeling and being hit by a melee attack won’t interrupt it. Casting anything during those eight seconds will still cancel it, though.

Exploding Keg is also a damage reduction cooldown that’s available every 90 seconds. At first glance, it does exactly what you think it does. You throw a keg that explodes when it lands, hitting every hostile target in the area. Exploding Keg also causes targets that it hits to miss all their melee attacks for the next three seconds, making this ability deceptively useful. If you time your Exploding Keg right, you can even trivialize boss abilities like Spear of Nightmares from Cenarius.

Our last means of active damage reduction is Breath of Fire. After purchasing three ranks of Hot Blooded, Breath of Fire will reduce the damage you take from every target afflicted with its DoT by 6%. The DoT lasts 8 seconds, but Breath of Fire has a 15 second cooldown that isn’t affected by haste. If you have the legendary chest, Breath of Fire’s cooldown is reset upon casting Keg Smash, making this spell a very reliable damage reduction ability with a theoretical 100% uptime.

While not damage reduction, Expel Harm is also a cooldown of sorts. When you have Gift of the Ox orbs available, Expel Harm can draw all of them in for a burst of healing while converting some of that to damage against the nearest enemy (which may or may not be your current target). As tempting as this may be to use whenever it’s available, Expel Harm does have an energy cost of 15, which can cause delays in your rotation if used constantly. Unless Obstinate Determination kicks in when you drop below 35%, you gain one Gift of the Ox sphere for every 100% of your health bar you take in unmitigated damage. Since the damage of the incoming attacks before armor and Stagger is calculated, there are times where taking a single attack can mean multiple spheres spawn. This is especially true in higher level content.


Putting it all together

Now that we’ve learned how each of our main spells work, let’s put it all together. Like other specs, brewmasters loosely follow a priority system for their rotation. How things line up varies based on your haste, but we do want to follow the following priority as best we can:

1. Keg Smash
2. Tiger Palm
3. Blackout Strike
4. Breath of Fire
5. Tiger Palm

This is the general order you want to use your abilities in. Having Tiger Palm on there twice may confuse you, but that’s because it has a different place in the priority depending on your energy bar. Beyond that, there are a few things to keep in mind while performing even your basic DPS rotation:


  • You don’t want to be at full energy. Sitting at 100 energy means the energy you generate beyond that point is wasted, and being wasteful is never a good thing when you can avoid it. If you’re in danger of energy capping and Keg Smash isn’t ready yet, Tiger Palm has the highest priority.
  • You should always have enough energy to cast Keg Smash as soon as it’s off cooldown. This may mean delaying Tiger Palm, and that’s okay. When Keg Smash is about to be up, you don’t want to use Tiger Palm if doing so means you won’t have enough energy to use Keg Smash. If you’re running low on energy (<40), Tiger Palm has the lowest priority.
  • You should never be sitting on three charges of ISB or Purifying Brew, but you should also never have all three unavailable at once if at all possible. It’s always a good idea to keep two charges on cooldown to maximize your brew generation from Keg Smash and Tiger Palm. Things get crazy sometimes and you may have to use that third charge to purify quickly, but you shouldn’t make a habit of not having any brews available.

If you’ve taken the Blackout Combo talent, the rotation changes significantly with Blackout Strike playing a much larger role. We’ll go over this in more detail once we get to the talent section.

If you have the legendary chest, Breath of Fire’s cooldown is reset every time you cast Keg Smash. You should never use Breath of Fire when you’re getting close to 100 energy to avoid capping, but you may want to prioritize Breath of Fire to get the most out of its damage reduction if you have Sal’salabim’s Lost Tunic.