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.
Totally agree with the issues raised, thank you for this article!
I just want to add about the non-interactiveness of our BFA rotation that during Legion the biggest interactive part was shoulder legendary (even more with chest but shoulder was the thing). Being able to delay keg smashs without wasting them was really awesome: you could adapt your rotation depending on add spawns for instance. It felt great!
It’s easy to argue something you don’t like. If you don’t like the play style the rule of thumb is to play something else. Lot of great comments made but also a lot of bad comments made.
At the end of legion and beginning of bfa I’ve been playing all tanks simultaneously, as a way of finding a new fun main to play, a tank I enjoy. I’ve played melee dps for 3 expansions. It was definitely a process, over several months.
I ended with the brewmaster, which I’ve found to be to most interesting and enjoyable tank to play. I love playing it. Not because it feels op, but becauee of of how it feels.
I’m just throwing this out there, as an alternative perspective to these threads I’ve been reading lately and which are all building up to the inevitable brewmater nerf. I sincerely hope that they will allow me the opportunity to keep playing the brew as it feels today. And honestly Im pretty sure they aren’t gonna redesign any class in the middle of an expansion.
Amazing article, thank you for this! Feels good to know that I’m not the only person who’s feeling kind of… bored and helpless about my health bar by what I can to do to stay alive :/ Your in depth analysis of why certain talents are just not justifyable usable was great, too!
IMO the feeling of purifying a huge amount of stagger feels really good to me. The managing of keeping ISB up while still having PBs up for big hits or just normal build up feels interactive to me.
I do agree outside fights that mainly have high physical damage I feel pretty lame.
I also think the power has affected everyone maybe not in the exact same way but I think they have reset the power of everyone to raise it to higher than you would expect in the future.
Though there are multiple viable points being made, I tend to overall disagree with the current state of tanks, Blizzard did a pretty good job at both balancing tankspecs, and making healers matter more to the raid/5-man as a whole.
Back in Legion I could feel the difference between a dumpster healer and a god-tier one in m+, but not the difference between a bad and a good one. Nowadays you can literally feel the 50 shades of grey. Our guild managed 9/11 in AtBT, with minor HCD micro-managing. We’re currently 4/8 and had to literally plan out every 20sec of every fight (except Mother-cheese) and realised soon that our entire healer comp needed an upgrade from avg players to good ones. Managed that this week and the re-clear was piece of cake and the HCD-planning went straight out the door due to competent healers calling out on Discord and knowing when their CDs were most potent.
Taking a step back from the forefront, outhealing multiple if not all healers on my BDK on more fights than not in AtBT, isn’t a bad thing for the game as a whole. A tank should be a mana-sponge. We’re there to soak and mitigate the hits, not to be one-man armies, there’s enough single-player games to do that.
As to come back to the “everything we do is passive, we can’t actively make sure we’re alive”… That’s just world-class horsedung. The feeling I have, and I’ll quote my raids co-tank BDK that joined me as dps in m+ last week: “Damn, don’t you ever take my healer with you in m+ because he’ll make me reroll BrM”
The toolkit BrM has is amazingly versatile in the way it can be used. Multiple cheeses are possible with both RoP and Statue, and though RoP is usually my go to (And will be used by MW, but basically never as WW due to Good Karma), SotS makes me go Statue 9/10. Skittish? What is that affix? Who with an AoE taunt cares?
About impact on survivability, I’ve healed through multiple last 20% bosses keeping 4/5 party-members alive while kiting after healer spazzed out. I’ve done both 1st siege boss and FH-ogre 95-0 wo a healer. Zek Mythic you can cheese 1/2 full combo’s chaining DH>ZM>DH>FB>DH keeping stress from the other tank. Fetid OT? Walk in the park.
In short, tanks don’t need a cancel-macro for Beacons anymore (Cheesing healing logs because you’re a bored and OP God), tanks are a part of the raid/5-man, no longer a one man army that curses at “the scrubs” because they can’t keep up. Saying us (BrM) or tanks in general don’t feel their impact anymore… Then in my humble opinion you either don’t look at when niche-talents can be used, or are more looking for a game like Witcher+Streaming so 19 people can be amazed how strong you are.
Yes it would be nice if something would be done to make our “rotation” more immersive, but it’s already better than VDH and Legion-BDK in my experience. And yes it would be nice if you would see a bigger difference between a bad BrM and a good one (halve base stagger, double ISB stagger e.g.) But the options that we’re proposed by multiple people in Discord/Reddit/above are allready implented: you CAN nerf your stagger in order to temp-boost your survivability by allot. It’s called Dampen Harm. It’s called Guard, it’s called BoC-stagger-pause. And eventough Sco’s BrM made my heart hurt, at least on Mythrax he preferred the last one over HT. These ARE niche picks, the Niche being HUAPM, Healer-Undergarment-Accidents-per-minute. This scale rarely gets taken into account because people rather look at HRPS or DTPS. But please don’t complain about wanting options that are already available if you don’t use them.
Sorry for the long post/rant, but BrM has options, more than any tank in the game. It’s a shame people refuse to see them.
Sorry for a couple of grammatical Fubars, was typing on cellphone
The truth my man. I can understand you all want something more immersive but do not refuse to look at it when most of the stuff is right in front of your eyes.
Smoothing damage is what we do however if you keep this up, we will lose that one as well.
I quit tanking because, like you mentioned, the spells to use are totally dull.
I dont mind the mitigation part, they just could disable fortifying brew and bake it into base stagger, but playing without this “cool moments of any kind of strength” really made me sad.
Personally all that I would wish to come back was explosive keg, just because it looked good.
Hi. Long time, reader. First time, poster. I have played various tanks at different times but mainly BM since MOP (apart from when Bears were OP). I couldn’t agree more with your article about how underwhelming and uninteresting it FEELS to play BM. I have found that the healers skill matters way more than mine when doing harder content. I don’t feel like I’m contributing much other than keeping up ISB. And that isn’t engaging. I’d like them to rethink Guard so it’s baseline and an actual AM we have to time. At least we’d have that then.
I agree with many points made in this post. I really don’t get the point of having all of the defensive decision making boil down to 1) keeping ironskin up at all times 2) reduce cool-downs of brews 3) use obsolete stacks to purify stagger. With some decent weak auras its no problem keeping 100 % up-time whatever skill level the player has. And that makes the remaining decision making deciding weather one can afford to purify- which is not very interesting at all.