This is a supplementary post to the 8.1 Monk Megathread on Reddit. You can follow the discussion there.
Before we get started, let’s address the elephant in the room: Brewmaster is strong right now — really strong. In the transition to Battle for Azeroth, Brewmaster lost the least defensive power of any tank spec, and we are lucky to have found ourselves in an environment that plays into most of Stagger’s strengths.
The addition of Bob and Weave (one of our best defensive legendaries!) as a talent and Leg Sweep as a baseline ability have been great positive changes as well, and we don’t want to overlook those. Baseline Leg Sweep in particular has been good for our kit in M+, as it allows us to talent into either Ring of Peace or Black Ox Statue and gives us two impactful mob-control abilities.
Unfortunately, that is where the high points end. As with many classes, losing both the artifact and legendaries was a big blow. Azerite hasn’t really been a replacement for those, with many traits being raw power rewards for doing things we already did.
This brings us to the low points. We’ve broken down our concerns into a few major areas, some of which aren’t Brew-only but warrant discussion:
BfA tank design isn’t fun
Agency has been a hot topic in the community lately, and it’s applicable here too. Many amongst the Brewmaster vets collaborating on this article subscribe to the tanking fantasy of facing a dangerous enemy, standing strong against their attacks, and through our own abilities living to fight another day. What makes that power fantasy engaging and attractive is our ability as players to enact even small parts of it. When a Paladin presses Shield of the Righteous for a tankbuster and lives, they should feel powerful. When a Death Knight Death Strikes and heals back much of the hit they just took, they should feel powerful.
That feeling is missing from BfA Brewmaster. As exemplified by the Fetid Post, our Active Mitigation doesn’t feel impactful. This is less about a raw numerical look at DTPS/EHRPS and more that no matter how we apply our Brews we always feel like we are bleeding to death — and fast. We aren’t advocating for being independent of the raid team — engagement with the rest of the raid team, both healers and DPS, is a core part of tanking — but we believe that it is important that our abilities both are and feel important to use correctly.
It does not feel that way currently. In almost every scenario, it feels like Brewmasters are simple mana sponges to be healed and that our play is largely irrelevant. While at an intellectual level we are aware that better play means that healers get to spend less mana for the same HPS, this is simply known and not felt by the tank. Purifying Brew is a strong but invisible button; when you cast the spell, it’s hard to see the impact of bleeding to death less quickly in the future.
Being strong is fun. But it’s like having too much of a good thing — you need the bad to balance it out. If you get to be strong sometimes, you have to be vulnerable at other times to really appreciate and revel in that feeling of strength. Similarly, being vulnerable isn’t fun if you don’t get to actively resist and push off your weakness with moments of strength.
As a tank, those moments of strength and vulnerability correlate to our Active Mitigation and cooldowns in combination with the encounter design. You get to choose when to be strong, when to use your mitigation and withstand periods of high incoming damage; to balance that out, you allow yourself to become vulnerable during periods of low incoming damage.
Brewmaster is in a uniquely uncomfortable position of being consistently strong due to high base stagger (and then additionally having 100% ISB uptime), while at the same time being consistently vulnerable due to our healer reliance. Because our Active Mitigation has such high uptime, pressing the button doesn’t create that feeling of strength because we were never weak. Purify does to a degree, but its effect is hard to see as it blends in with the fluctuation of incoming healing. This lack of clear feedback compounds the above-mentioned way our decision-making can feel irrelevant and unimpactful.
Too much of our power is in Stagger
Currently, the smoothness of damage intake almost always matters more than absolute damage taken in a raiding environment. Healers can almost always keep up with the amount of healing a tank needs–provided it isn’t a one- or two-shot. This is less true in M+ since healing is more limited, but still relevant.
Stagger is innately strong in a raid environment like this. Just by existing, it all but eliminates spike damage unless the burst is truly obscene. Given this power, it seems unlikely that we can be allowed to have much power in other areas without making other specs irrelevant. However, this also means that in scenarios where large (physical) bursts to tanks aren’t a concern we have few-to-no tools. Outside of Gift of the Ox—which gives one orb healing 10-20% of our HP for every 100% of our HP we take in damage—we have no sustain tools. Similarly, we have only a single tool (Summon Black Ox Statue) to impact a fight aside from Ring of Peace and Leg Sweep—both also provided by Mistweavers and Windwalkers. We think that tanks should certainly have their own strengths and weaknesses, but we also believe that stagger too often dominates our strengths and leaves us with few-to-no options when not valuable.
In light of Ion’s comments in the Q&A, we think this state is problematic. Specifically: Ion remarked that they envision tanks as “battlefield commanders.” If tanks are meant to take an active role in the encounter that focuses more on movement and overall control, survivability can be less of an immediate concern. We don’t have a problem with this philosophy, but currently lack tools to fulfill it that are not also brought by the other Monk specs. Our two main utilities in a raiding environment are Stagger and efficient movement via Roll/Chi Torpedo and Transcendance. The current tier is disconcerting in that regard, as Uldir contains few encounters where our movement tools are powerful. This leaves us with Stagger often being the only reason to bring a Brewmaster over another tank. While we do not want another (Mythic) Aggramar, where bringing one tank spec is all but mandatory, we would like to have a bit wider range of tools that are valuable in raids.
Dead Talents & the 100 Row
One of our major complaints during Legion was the large number of “dead” talents and completely uncompetitive talent rows available to Brewmasters. While the Black Ox Brew nerf and the addition of Bob & Weave helped even things out, problems still remain. While compared to other specs our talent issues are relatively minor, we still have two major problems with our current talents: Spitfire and the Level 100 Row.
Right now, our level 100 row could almost just contain High Tolerance. This talent provides a huge defensive boost that touches all areas of our kit, on top of the high amount of haste giving a substantial DPS boost. That same haste reduces our Brew cooldowns, and the increased Stagger causes each Purifying Brew to mitigate additional damage. The talent is really good.
Then we have Guard, a hollow shell of itself. The current iteration of Guard suffers from both tuning and usability issues. On the tuning side, it has long CD for an absorb that barely does more than a single good Purifying Brew. At the same time, the limited buff duration means that trying to use it for anything but large Physical bursts is a frustrating experience, with Guard often absorbing only half of its limit outside of such bursts. This is doubly frustrating once we note that High Tolerance is currently better for dealing with bursty damage. This leaves Guard in an awkward spot where playing to its strength means you’ve chosen the wrong talent, but using it in other scenarios is ineffective and frustrating.
Blackout Combo suffers similarly from High Tolerance’s strength. Previously, Blackout Combo had been the go-to damage talent because of the strength of the Blackout Strike+Tiger Palm combo. The nerf to this combo and the buff to auto-attack damage together result in the haste granted by High Tolerance providing greater DPS in a completely non-interactive way. While we may in the future take the talent for the utility of the Blackout Strike+ISB stagger-pause combo, there are currently no encounters where this is strong enough to justify using it over High Tolerance. The remaining combos are simply tuned too low to be competitive: comboing with Keg Smash simply results in getting additional purifies, but each added Purifying Brew has lower value than the last. Contrast this with High Tolerance, which makes each Purifying Brew better because we stagger more damage. On the other hand, comboing with Breath of Fire grants an extra 3 seconds of 5% damage reduction every 15 seconds, which works out to a 1% average damage reduction. This talent is currently not remotely competitive when compared to High Tolerance, which does everything better than Blackout Combo itself except for pausing stagger.
Spitfire, on the other hand, suffers from both tuning issues and being misfit on its row. The effect takes an effect that is roughly 2% of our overall damage and gives it a chance to reset. While in theory this could improve our Breath of Fire uptime, this is neither a sufficiently powerful DPS boost nor a meaningful addition to our defensive power. However, evaluating this talent is complicated by the fact that it is placed on a row with Light Brewing and Black Ox Brew—both powerful talents that we rely on to produce sufficient brews over the course of a fight. Importantly, this means that even if Spitfire were tuned to be a strong DPS talent it would almost never see use because we all but need one of the other talents to function.
Our Rotation is Non-Interactive
As we’ve alluded to above, the Brewmaster rotation is not exactly what most would call fun and interactive. The bulk of our damage right now comes from three sources: pressing Blackout Strike on cooldown, pressing Keg Smash on cooldown, and auto-attacks. To really drive this point home: the current top parse for Mythic Fetid has auto-attacks as the #1 damage source. Together with Blackout Strike and Keg Smash, this accounts for about 55% of the Monk’s 13k DPS. Tiger Palm accounts for barely over 6%, about as much as the (passive) talent Eye of the Tiger. Similar patterns can be seen on, for example, MOTHER. There is an ongoing joke in the Brewmaster channels of Peak discord that all you need for an orange parse is to press Blackout Strike and Keg Smash on cooldown and have a 375+ weapon. While this is somewhat exaggerated, our base rotation is incredibly dull and we have no talents to improve it on farm bosses.
In Legion we had a number of options to spice things up. FP relics made Blackout Combo the best DPS option. This gave a rotation that was at least a bit better than what we have now, even if it was still totally static. The Breath of Fire chest legendary further fleshed out this rotation, giving a perfect 7s cycle with the right level of haste. Perhaps most notably: Breath of Fire also interacted with our Mastery: Elusive Brawler, and allowed us to alter our rotation on-demand to forcibly dodge an attack. In this way, it added a reactive component to the rotation through control of our mastery.
We lost all of this going into BfA. Nothing replaced it. The Windwalker trait Pressure Point was briefly poised to be the new FP and single-handedly revitalize Blackout Combo, and it was promptly nerfed into the ground. While this was honestly for the best due to the lack of high-ilvl Azerite, the extreme simplification of our already static rotation has left us with virtually nothing to do during the often long periods where fights demand nothing from us.
Before concluding, we would like to remark that Gift of the Ox also received undocumented changes in 8.0. Previously, there was no cap on orbs available, which allowed pooling them for high-damage portions of a fight. It is now capped at 5 orbs out at once. While this may ultimately be a net-neutral or even positive change, we mention it because it is both impactful and went completely uncommunicated. Going into 8.1, our biggest wish is to have better communication with Blizzard. Part of that happens here, in the megathreads and on Peak–but communication happens between two parties, and for much of the past two years we have received little communication from Blizzard’s end.
So where does all this leave Brewmaster going into patch 8.1? Absent truly exceptional nerfs, Brewmaster will remain strong as a tank. Although being powerful can be fun, right now Brewmaster isn’t. We really just want fun things to do as a tank. Whether that is an engaging DPS rotation or being a “battlefield commander” or having to carefully manage our mitigation to survive is immaterial—we want something where currently we have very little.
We recognize that many of the deeper issues we have raised are unlikely to be addressed without a larger revamp, but remark that many of our quality-of-life and feel issues could be at least partially addressed in a patch not too long from now. For the moment, we look forward to jumping into testing on the 8.1 PTR once Brewmaster changes are in.
Until then, dear reader, keep binging that Ironskin Brew.