A user came into
#brew-lounge recently with some questions about their tank. This isn’t unusual—far from it! Peak of Serenity’s Brewmaster section is exactly where we want people to come with questions about their tank. However, we were not prepared. Not for this.
This particular individual came because they felt their BrM tank was difficult to heal. As usual, we asked for logs. Upon inspection, this tank had all the hallmarks of someone inexperienced with the spec. Low ISB uptime, excessive Purifying Brew casts, clean Heroic Fetid kill.
Clean…Heroic Fetid…kill? That just can’t be possible, right? Fetid has some of the highest tank damage in Uldir, so someone badly screwing up couldn’t possibly be killing this boss, right? Not on Heroic, RIGHT?
We were not prepared.
This spawned a huge discussion that quickly spilled from
#brew-lounge into private chats between BrM veterans (both official and unofficial). An unhappiness with the spec had already been cropping up in the discord. In this log, that feeling of unhappiness was given form. We knew and had previously remarked that BrM is a very forgiving tank spec. None of us, however, realized quite how forgiving it truly was.
After extensive discussion with other BrM Veterans, I am writing this post with the goal of illustrating exactly how problematic the current state of Brewmaster is. Not only is the spec forgiving, but it is also nearly impossible to tell how good (or badly) you are playing the spec without turning to external tools like (shameless self-plug) WoWAnalyzer. Further, the punishment for poor play is rarely felt by the offending Brewmaster. Instead, the nature of our power shifts the burden onto the healers, and even they may not realize the problem without doing exactly what the protagonist of our tale did: asking vets to review the log.
Comparative Log Analysis
The main tool I’m going to use to accomplish this is the same tool we consistently fall back on: log analysis. To protect the innocent, I will not be providing log links. The two logs I will use are (1) the offending log, (2) a log with comparable kill time (but much, much better play). We’ll call these the offending log and the reference log, respectively. Both logs have a Brewmaster main-tanking Heroic Fetid Devourer, which means they spend most of the fight getting hit in the face extremely hard by melee attacks.
Figure: Ironskin usage for the offending log (top) and the reference log.
A quick glance at the analyzer applied to the offending log reveals what should be a fatal issue: tragically low Ironskin uptime. This player eschewed maintaining the buff in favor of casting Purifying Brew more. They purified a total of 36 times in 4m 28s, as compared to 19 times in 4m 34s in the reference log. Despite having nearly double the casts of the reference player, the offending player removed only 28% more damage (2.57m vs 2.00m). The cost from this in Ironskin uptime was profound, with a drop from nearly 88% of hits mitigated to a mere 29%.
That the reference player tanked more effectively is reflected in the amount of damage taken, but only slightly. The offending player took an average of 21k damage per second, while the reference player took a slightly lower 18k dps. We see a similarly small drop in external healing required when looking back at Warcraft Logs: 14.4k external healing required per second versus 12.6k.
This doesn’t line up with our understanding of how Brewmasters function. A drop in Ironskin Brew uptime this substantial should be met with a similarly large change in various incoming damage / healing metrics. In short: a tank playing incorrectly should be taking more damage, and require more healing. Or at least, that is what we expect—yet it is not what we find.
I dug and dug, looking for some numerical representation of the impact that this poor play had. TMI? Nope. Raw DTPS? Nada. Nothing reflected the severity of this gap. On a whim, I commented on this in veteran chat. My fellow Peak author, shrike, suggested that we should at least see an increase in spikiness reflected in the amount and kind of heals they received. In fact, one doesn’t even need to dig that far. We can just look at the HP charts.
Figure: HP (and Max HP in red) vs fight time. Top: Offending Log, Bottom: Reference.
The difference between the drops in health in the offending and reference logs is that the former has instantaneous drops due to lack of mitigation, while the latter has slow, steady drops due to lack of healing received. This is much easier to see if I pull my own (much shorter) Fetid log on one of our Mythic group’s Heroic runs.
Figure: HP (and max HP) vs fight time. Personal Log.
Over the course of this log, I get ticked down, and then healed back up by a combination of Beacon of Light and Rejuvenation. While I occasionally drop a bit low due to gaps in healing after a Stomp, there are no large spikes. The same is largely true in the reference log. This leaves us in a situation where the only real difference between playing a Brewmaster poorly or well is qualitative: how “spiky” were you (this is surprisingly hard to quantify). In the (paraphrased) words of shrike:
“Is there a metric for healer heart attacks?” – shrike, 2018, probably
Exactly as she predicted, the difference in spikiness can be seen both in the number and kind of casts received. The counts of the top 6 casts targeting the (brew) tank in both logs can be seen below. It is worth noting that the difference in scales makes the bars deceptive. For example: the offending player received a whopping 27 Healing Wave casts, while the top cast on the reference player was a Resto Druid maintaining Rejuvenation with 16 casts (a full 11 fewer). This player received almost as many heals in the top 3 (Healing Wave, Soothing Mist, and Flash Heal) as the reference player received in the top 6.
Figure: Casts targeting the tank in each of the offending (top) and reference (bottom) logs.
Of course, these logs are not perfectly comparable. The reference log has a Holy Paladin with the amazing Beacon of Light on the Brewmaster tank, while the offending log doesn’t. However, this only accounts for 15% of total healing received in the reference log, and won’t remove the spiky behavior of the offending tank’s healthbar.
This puts us in an awkward situation. The tank in question fails many of the (external-only) checks for if a Brewmaster is playing well, but failing these checks isn’t actually reflected in the signals the tank is receiving. Maybe they notice that their health is moving in bigger chunks, but compared to a Paladin or Death Knight a Brewmaster is still fairly smooth even with Ironskin Brew down. In fact, the only players that are really feeling the impact of this tank’s errors are the healers.
Tanking: The Healer’s Problem?
Recall what I wrote earlier: “this doesn’t line up with our assumptions.” What if our assumptions are wrong? What if the onus of a tank’s survival isn’t intended to be on the tank, but on the healers? That would certainly explain what we see in these logs, but ultimately leaves us with a bit of an existential crisis. If we aren’t intended to bear the bulk of the responsibility for our own survival, then what is our purpose? To pass butter?
Alternately, maybe this is just a tuning error. A really, truly obscene tuning error. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to many in the tank community to see Brewmasters hit with the nerfbat. While a straightforward nerf to Stagger might make this player die to H Fetid, it won’t actually solve the underlying problem this log reveals: there is no tangible reward for playing well.
This is, in my mind, the true heart of the problem. The only way for a Brewmaster to tell if they’re doing well or not is to ask their healers and hope they’re sufficiently knowledgeable to give a good answer. Given a few competent healers, we won’t really die to our own mistakes unless the damage intake is so high that they simply can’t put out that level of HPS. At the same time, good play isn’t rewarded. We can’t go without a healer for more than a few seconds ever no matter how well we play. It feels like we have no control.
It feels like our play and our abilities simply don’t matter.
I wish I could present a solution for this, but I really can’t. It has become increasingly clear to the tank community that Stagger is much, much stronger than the tooltip lets on. I believe I represent the Official™ position of Peak when I say that Stagger is so fundamentally powerful that it is not only stifling our ability to be strong in other areas but also eliminating the ability for players to examine their own play without substantial external tools.
The aim of the design team to have ISB used as an active mitigation tool seems to just have resulted in it being necessary only if you like your healers and want them to like you too. The alternative of maintaining the ISB buff 100% of the time smooths things out and reduces damage intake a little bit, but changes so little we could literally just be taunt dummies and let the healers do the work. I don’t like this.
I would like to return to a point mentioned in the introduction: we knew something was wrong. We felt it. In the BFA world, tanks have little control over their fate. While this was true to some degree in Legion, the effect has grown dramatically more pronounced—and as a result, the burden of poor play has shifted from the Brewmaster to the poor, unfortunate souls healing the Brewmaster.
It isn’t fun to be a mana sponge. It isn’t fun to press our buttons and eke out barely less damage taken than someone that just presses Purifying Brew when its up. It isn’t fun that the biggest difference between the offending log and the reference log is slightly slower HP drops, and that the biggest difference between the reference log and my log is the healing team.
This is an opinion piece, so I’ll end with my opinion: tanking right now isn’t fun because what we do barely matters. I expect that we will see similar takes from veterans of other specs in the upcoming megathreads—though, perhaps with a few more deaths because not everyone has Stagger. I hope Blizzard reads and listens to this feedback, because I would like to enjoy tanking again.
Addendum (11 October 2018)
This post has really blown up, and in the process a few points of confusion have come up.
- I failed to mention that these were both main-tanks and not off-tanks. This has been fixed.
- This article is not saying “it doesn’t matter if you use ISB.” The point is that as a tank we both have little impact on our own survival and virtually no in-game feedback on how well we’re playing. However, maintaining ISB makes you easier to heal even if you can’t tell, so please don’t stop pressing ISB!
Hey dude really good read, I loved brew in early tomb because of its simplicity and well it’s what I would call a noob tank the gap between the worst and the best is closer in brew than most other tanks. Now let me also say I do credit some of the better brew to still be a lot better than me! I think brew though needs to be given a way of standing out from the crowd the removal of the benefit of black out combo has made the rotation stale. Maybe if they developed a talent build that is difficult to play but rewards the player with more damage and more self sustain but will leave you vulnerable to stagger more even if it’s a double edge sword talent, you take 60% less stagger but you are able to do x thing, would be interesting to see and article on what you guys suggest as a community. In short tldr what do you guys suggest ???
So basically adjusting the base stagger from 60% right now (with 360-370 gear) to maybe 30% and at the same time buffing ISB so while active we would still have our 80-85% stagger could solve this issue?
I mained BrM in the first half of Legion, returning now. Frankly, I was basically this guy, and only realized it recently. To me, Purifying Brew was an active mitigation when the default UI stagger icon was yellow (more like red). I didn’t understand Ironskin. So first, thank you for this detail, and the tools you’ve used here, you’ve given me the tools to be a better Brewmaster.
While I recognize your “This Sucks” thoughts regarding tanks and heals. I’ve healed more than I’ve tanked, and I’m honestly surprised that this is a surprise to you. Random Dungeons, Heroics, or Mythics…it’s basically totally on the healer to make up for everyone else’s incompetence. DPS that have no clue how to avoid ground effects. Tanks that have no mitigation skills. Either I, as a healer, thanklessly just work in the background (carrying the group), or I take a principled stand, let people die so as to learn, and then 1) waste my own time educating the playerbase, and 2) get kicked from the group for being a bad healer.
Your BrM points are valid, but I think if you reached out more to healers, you’d find that this is basically what most (non-raiding, top-end) healers deal with. Your run-of-the-mill healer, doing random groups, is essentially just a carry.
This makes me a little sad. I never thought BrM was that hard to play in Legion (after failing in LFR in both Mists and WoD) and people always told me I was a good tank. While I never believed I was a great tank, I wonder if it was really me or always just a great group of healers.
SimC’s TMI should actually measure exactly what you’re talking about.
The problem with the BfA incarnation is the default tank dummies do about 120dps. At that level of DTPS, a mage’s damage intake is smooth.
If you alter the action lists appropriately and use a Custom enemy that does actual damage, you should get a numeric representation of what you’re seeing on the HP charts.
I’m currently using the following dummy in my sims. I use wildly variable ranges because I’m mostly interested in M+, you’d probably be better off modifying the damage to better match Fetid.
# A main-hand auto attack
# A off-hand auto attack with highly variable damage range to random things up a bit
# An instant spell strike
# An AoE attack that hits the whole raid
I think it’s really disheartening and leaves very little for us to strive for. The skill floor and skill ceiling for our class is simply too close. Perhaps if we had complexity in damage dealing or had some avenue to showcase our ability it would be great. As it stands too many of our best choices are passives.
It’s hard not to take BoW with HT for example. The two just work together so well but there is no real interesting play to that. I hope that blizz doesn’t read this as a reason to nerf us to the ground and instead works on making it so there is a level of skill to what we do.
Fun to read this, it is really not new to me. I main MW but more or less maintain a “decent” BrM offspec. I have seen (as a healer) some brm tanks apply since Legion in my raid and.. man. More than half of the time i was like “how is the dude so spiky” > warcraflogs > yeah well ok, bad isb uptime.
But well anyway what’s hard in maintaining isb up 100% of the time?
I would like to see a more extreme test. Can we see this same comparison on a 2 tank mythic zul kill? My guess is the poor IB uptime won’t exist on a kill but you may be able to find it on wipes.
I’ve checked a lot of times and, apart from a very extreme situation where everything matters, bad and good play matter almost zero on the boss kill.
When I first saw the changes to isb I figured the whole point was to move it away from a boring maintain this all the time or you’re wrong mindset. My analysis suggests they hit the mark on this goal and optimal mitigation occurs when only using it for higher damage portions of a fight for most builds.
Isb has been hugely nerfed from legion and I think many people are holding onto assumptions and best practices from a very different time. It’s time to rethink some things.
Here’s my list of suggestions based on my experience with BrM. I knew that having the spec focus on ISB as the “active mitigation” when it doesn’t actually mitigate (just gives you an opportunity to mitigate a higher amount) anything would lead to wonky things happening but I had no idea it would be as bad as this.
Change Stagger base to 35%, remove agility scaling
Change ISB – 1 charge, 12s CD, 7s duration, no GCD, 35% more stagger, remove shared CD from Purifying Brew
Elusive Brawler goes baseline, 20% flat per stack
Remove Purifying Brew & Jab
New Mastery – Increases chance for Gift of the Ox to spawn and healing done by Gift of the Ox by X%
Change Gift of the Ox – Heal over time effect, chance to proc when you take stagger damage, chance proportionate to the dmg taken with mastery bonus modifier, 2% stagger removed with every tick
Change Expel Harm – 20 Energy, Removes 5% + X% (scaling off agility) of Current Stagger and deals damage equal to Jab (No longer picks up orbs)
Remove Brew Reduction from Keg Smash and add a new passive that reduces the cooldown on brews used anytime you use an ability that is different from the previously used ability
So why these changes?
Stagger will always be problematic. Too little of it and you’re not much different from a WW. Too much of it and you’re a reinforced steel wall. I believe 70% to be that sweet spot where you feel it’s strength while still leaving you vulnerable to incoming damage if you don’t manage things properly.
ISB maintenance through the brew cooldown mechanic should be how you distinguish good BrM from bad. Yes, ISB should be up 100% of the time. Why? Because as mentioned above, ISB isn’t actually mitigation. You don’t take less dmg just from having it up. That principal is proven in the Fetid Log. ISB just lets you die slower from the exact same amount of damage you’d take without it up.
Elusive Brawler is another prime example of something that is good with balance. Too much is entirely wasted, too little is hardly felt. Locking it in at 20% and removing it from mastery scaling frees up our mastery to be changed to make room for the removal of Purifying Brew.
Purifying Brew is *actually* the BrM’s mitigation mechanic. This is how we reduce incoming damage. In the grand scheme of things, the idea of being able to shuck large chunks of damage we build up is in part, what makes Stagger over powered. For Stagger to feel more balanced, the damage reduction needs to be smaller an incremental so that high damage taken windows are still intimidating to the BrM.
Jab is just a flavorless filler that I hate using. Expel Harm seems to be a more thematic and appropriate place for damage reduction and filler. As mentioned, smaller, more incremental reductions to the Stagger pool is the only way to bring Stagger down to an acceptable level for us to justify being able to fill out a tool kit.
Agility scaling here is the perfect match since stagger reduction is our mitigation. By the end of the first raiding tier, you might be seeing 9-10% of the stagger pool being removed every EH and by the end of the expansion it could be as high as 16-18%. Either way, this gives Agi a very strong offensive and defensive value and allows BrM to keep their Stagger pools managed by offering a meaningful decision to be made between using Keg Smash for damage or EH for mitigation.
Either way, doing the incremental removals in such small amounts will certainly lead to a “normalized” stagger pool based on the bosses damage output which could easily end up in the 500-600k area. That’s where the Gift and Mastery changes come in. Tying the proc chance to the severity of stagger damage taken gives the BrM a Yin to the staggers Yang effect and having stagger removal baked into the heal over time of Gift of the Ox while allowing Gifts to stack means you’ll have larger reductions when you need it without allowing you to instantly trivialize what should be fatal damage (like Fel Claws or Argus 4+ scythe stacks).
All these changes culminate to a great deal of choice making and the introduction of rewarding good game play. The concepts may seem over powered but I’m not suggesting making BrM over powered in a new way, I’m only suggesting a system that would accommodate choice. The balance is up to Blizzard. I want to be able to be more than just a target dummy for hostiles in raids but I’ll never get that chance as a BrM so long as stagger, purify, and our mastery exist as they do.
Although my post is late, I think it is worth saying.
1) I don’t think lacking self healing makes tanks have existential crisis.
In broad terms, the tank is responsible for threat, healers are responsible for player health bars, and DPS is responsible for enemy health bars. While responsibility does overlap across the three roles, those are the overall responsibilities.
If the tank and DPS can heal themselves for what they need, where does that leave the healer role?
2) Also, 28% permanent damage is a very significant amount, and puts it in line with some defensive cooldowns.
3) in terms of tank performance, this is a team game so it is difficult to separate individual performance. If you aren’t losing aggro and dtps is reasonable given your gear and content and the healer’s gear and ability, then you’re doing fine.