Brewmaster Basics: Guidelines for Purifying


Welcome back to PeakOfSerenity's Brewmaster Basics series! This part of the series will focus on Purifying Brew. Why to use it, when not to use it, and some ideas to help guide your decision-making. We'll also discuss some ways to think about your stagger pool and incoming damage in relation to what's going on around you.

This guide has been updated for Patch 8.0.1 and is regularly updated when discussion, theorycrafting, or testing yields new information.

It’s finally time to talk about purifying! As we’ve discussed in previous articles, purification is where we finally get to do something about all that stagger damage we’re taking. Purifying efficiently and managing brews well is where your skill as a player can really shine.

Let’s take a look at that tooltip again.

There are two important parts to note here:

The first, of course, is what actually happens when you press the button.

Clears 50% of your damage delayed with stagger

This is just what we’ve discussed in previous articles—purify takes what you’ve got in your stagger pool and removes half of it. It’s dumping that bucket out.

The second is this little line at the bottom:

Shares charges with Ironskin Brew

Aaaand that’s where the fun starts.


Brew Management

We already know that keeping up Ironskin Brew is really important. The damage smoothing it provides is just too powerful to give up. (I know we’ve already discussed this to death, but it still bears repeating!)

However, damage smoothing is only part of the story. We also need to mitigate damage. At a certain level it doesn’t matter how smooth the damage intake is. It will be a burden to the healers anyway simply because there’s too much damage to keep up with. That’s where Purifying Brew comes in. We can press this button to reduce the damage in our stagger pool, and reduce how hard the stagger dot hits us. The trick is in figuring out when to press it.

We can’t use purify too often, because then we won’t have enough brew charges to maintain ISB. But because it does share charges, that means that we get some flexibility on when exactly we want to press it.

Most of the time, no specific charge has to be one spell or the other. If you’re at 7s Ironskin Brew duration with two brew charges, you have choices to make. You could press Ironskin Brew once and Purifying Brew once, or you could press ISB twice and not purify yet. If you choose to press ISB twice, that means that when you get your next brew charge, you’ll have plenty of ISB duration banked up and won’t have to worry about dropping ISB if you purify. This basically allows you to “shuffle” brew casts around throughout a fight. There are limitations to how long you can delay a purify (you’ll start either cap brew charges or cap ISB if you hold onto it too long, both of which are no good) but it does buy you a bit of flexibility.

So that’s the background we’re working with. Unfortunately, there’s no magic number or answer we can give you for when exactly you should purify. The best we can do is explain why you want to purify as a brewmaster, when you shouldn’t, and let you figure out the rest.

Let’s move on and establish some of the guiding principles we’ll be working with.


The Guidelines

We already know we don’t want to drop Ironskin Brew while taking damage. We know we want to purify when stagger is the most dangerous to us, but sometimes it’s not obvious when that is.

These ideas give us a few basic guidelines:

  1. Don’t purify when doing so would cause you to drop ISB.
  2. Purify after large spikes of damage, as long as you don’t break Rule 1.
  3. Purify as needed with spare brews, while not breaking Rule 1 or consuming brews you need for Rule 2.

The trick, of course, is getting the hang of making all of your brew decisions in a thoughtful, methodical way — especially in the heat of the moment! — and trying to ensure it’s the best decision while not wasting too much time hesitating. It’s a lot easier said than done, and it can feel impossible sometimes to know if you’re making the right choices.

Next, we’ll walk through each of these guidelines and talk about them a little more.


Rule 1

Don’t purify when doing so would cause you to drop ISB.

This one’s been beaten to death, and I won’t spend long on it.

One thing to note here is that while you never want to drop Ironskin Brew while you’re taking significant damage, it’s actually fine to let it fall off when you’re sure you won’t be taking damage. So if there’s something like a tank swap where you won’t be taking damage afterwards, it’s okay to use your last brew on purify instead of ISB.


Since Forging Strike is the tank swap and intermission is up next, I don’t need to maintain ISB after that ability. I can spend any free brews on Purify or save them for later.

In fact, sometimes it’s actually ideal to plan for your Ironskin Brew to fall off at the same time as a tank swap so that you can purify instead. You just want to be very sure that the swap won’t be late and that you won’t be taking damage while ISB is down.

It can be exceptionally dangerous to drop Ironskin Brew while actively tanking due to the way stagger delays damage. Not only do you lose the smoothing power of ISB, but you’re still taking the stagger damage from the past 10-13 seconds. When you drop ISB, you’re stuck in a situation where you’re now taking both the spiky damage from new incoming damage and the stagger ticks from past damage until you can get ISB back up. You’re essentially doubling up on new damage and past damage, and the new damage is spiky and can quickly flatten you.

Be very, very careful when dropping Ironskin Brew intentionally, and err in favor of keeping ISB up if you’re not sure. Dropping it unintentionally is something that is likely to happen as you learn brew management, but do your best to prioritize keeping it up.

However, there’s one specific situation where you may want to let Ironskin Brew drop while you’re taking damage: if you are not actively taking physical damage and you’ve got a magic dot or bleed on you. Since stagger is less effective against magical and bleed effects and the damage you’re taking is already smooth due to being a dot, ISB doesn’t help as much, and you can potentially get more value out of two purifies than one purify and one ISB. Just be sure to space the purifies out a bit.


Rule 2

Purify after large spikes of damage, as long as you don’t break Rule 1.

This is a big one, but also pretty straightforward. As a tank, you’re probably already pretty aware of what abilities do a lot of damage. If you’re checking out the dungeon journal, these abilities will usually be marked with the shield or Tank Alert icon.


probably something you want to pay attention to

If you’re running a boss mod, your boss timers will also tell you in advance when there’s a big boss ability coming up (and if you’re not, I highly recommend either DBM or BW!). You’ll notice when one of these abilities hits because even if you don’t get chunked, you’ll see your stagger jump up a few notches.

Then, you just purify. Boom, done.

If you’ve played a class with a reactive heal, such as Blood DK or Prot Paladin, the timing is very similar. Wait until the damage hits and purify right after. Remember, the damage from the stagger dot starts hitting you right away, so you want to purify as soon as you can so you don’t take a couple of heavy dot ticks in the meantime.

These two graphs show the difference between a hit that wasn’t purified versus one that was (left), and the difference between two hits that were purified, but one was purified late (right). In each, the shaded area is extra damage that was taken due to inefficient purifying.

These graphs correspond with the ones above, but show damage taken per second. Just another way to think about what’s happening when you purify!

You can see that the faster you purify after a mechanic, the more damage you prevent and the more efficient that purify is. Since stagger ticks every 0.5s, it’s unlikely you’ll always be able to purify in between the nuke and the first tick, but you can try! (Don’t worry, that one tick won’t make a big difference; I just like to think of it as a fun little challenge.)

Brew cast flexibility comes into play a little here, although it’s not necessarily something you want to overanalyze. Just remember that it doesn’t matter if you use Ironskin Brew before or after a specific hit as long as your buff won’t run out by the time you cast it. If you’ve only got 1 brew but you’ve got 1-2 charges’ worth of duration banked up, you’re probably fine to use that last brew on a Purifying Brew.


Brew Shuffling


Click me!

Shuffling the casts around like this doesn’t make a difference in your Ironskin Brew uptime, but can allow you to Purifying Brew in a more timely manner! It’s not a huge deal to delay a purify if you feel more comfortable not allowing your ISB duration to drop so low, but this kind of brew management is where a lot of the nuance and skill of playing brewmaster is hidden. Even the best of us are always refining our brew management.


Rule 3

Purify as needed with spare brews, while not breaking Rule 1 or consuming brews you need for Rule 2.

The nice thing about tank mechanics is that they make it easy to know when to use your active mitigation and cooldowns, or in our case, when to purify. But tank mechanics aren’t the only time you take damage, as a tank. You’re still getting hit by melee attacks, maybe a DoT effect, or there may be raid damage going out that you still want to mitigate.

Sometimes you’ll end up in a situation where you have a brew, you know you can safely use it to purify without dropping ISB, and there isn’t anything super important happening soon that you should save it. You know you can use this brew to purify, the question is just… when?

Turns out, that’s kind of a complicated answer.


Healer Stress

The basic idea is that you should purify when stress on the healer(s) is highest. The problem is it’s not quite obvious when that is, because it depends on a lot of different factors. The idea of the healing burden — the amount of stress you personally are adding, or the amount of attention you need — is something that we discussed in a previous article, but purification is where you can gain more control over it.

Sometimes healer stress can be high even when your personal healing burden is low, and sometimes healer stress can be moderate or even low despite the fact that you personally may be currently requiring a fair amount of direct attention. The context of the overall situation is what makes the difference.

Your healing burden is high when you’re taking a lot of damage, because healers will need to directly target you and and spend GCDs and direct spells on keeping you alive. They may need to use their large, expensive spells to keep you healthy. If nothing else is going on, healer stress could still be low. If you’re taking extreme damage, they might still be stressed even if you’re the only one who needs to be healed.

Healer stress can also be high when it has nothing to do with the tank. If the healers are taxed keeping the raid or party alive, even a single GCD spent on you could result in a death or require a cooldown. Your personal healing burden may be low, but there are other things going on that demand the healers’ time and attention, which forces the healers to choose between keeping the tank alive or dealing with heavy raid or party damage going out.

Who knows what’s going on there — maybe a big raid mechanic with lots of damage or the healers are DPSing during a burn phase. For whatever reason, there’s a drop in available tank healing. If it’s consistent, pop a CD or plan to purify at that point.

This is why you’ll sometimes hear people say that you don’t really need to purify even at heavy stagger, because if the healers aren’t busy, they probably have the GCDs and attention to spare to let you lean on their healing and conserve brews. But sometimes you’ll want to purify at low red stagger or even yellow, simply because they don’t have the resources to spend on you.


When Stagger Isn’t Helping

There will be times when your damage intake is relatively constant. Purifying after spikes is pretty straightforward, but if you’re mostly being harmed by melees, dots, or other consistent damage, eventually the size of your stagger pool will plateau. This means that the rate at which damage is leaving your stagger pool (by ticks) is the same as the rate at which new damage is entering the stagger pool.

When this happens, the only benefit you’re getting from stagger is the smoothing of new hits. If you recognize that you’ve hit this kind of plateau, you should purify. It can be hard to see this happening during a fight, but that’s where logs can be helpful. If there was a point during a fight where you weren’t sure what to do with your brews, you can check your logs and see if you had any long periods of consistent stagger damage.


Recognizing Damage Patterns

Following on the last idea, part of becoming a good brewmaster (and let’s be honest, a good tank in general) is learning to recognize not only the patterns of damage on you as the tank, but also the damage patterns on the raid as a whole. It can be good to pop a cooldown or purify at these times just so you can remove yourself as something the healers need to worry about, and let them focus on keeping the raid alive.

There are a lot of ways to find out when the healers are busy. You can always use boss fight guides to figure out when healing cooldowns are typically used, or when large amounts of raid damage go out. You can talk to your healers (and you should talk to your healers anyway!), or you can watch your raid frames to see when the raid is taking a lot of damage.

If you see your health dropping while there’s a lot of raid damage going out, that means that your incoming healing is less than your current damage taken — you need more healing attention than healers have to give. Even if the amount of damage you’re taking isn’t objectively large, it’s still a good time to purify. If this is a fight you’re progressing on, make a mental note of it, and see if it happens next time. If it does, you can probably consistently plan to use a brew during this period just like you’d plan to use one after a tank mechanic.

You can even think of this type of purifying as just purifying when you feel vulnerable. If you feel vulnerable, whether due to high raw damage intake or low incoming healing, it’s okay to use that feeling and intuition as a reason to purify. Any time your health is dropping faster than it’s being healed back up, it’s fine to purify as long as it’s a brew you can freely spend.


Identifying Peaks

If you’ve really got no idea when to purify, nothing’s happening to the raid, there are no tank mechanics, you can rely on either the Normalized Stagger weakaura (written by our very own emptyrivers) or your own intuition of tank damage to purify.

(Just as a side note, if you’re this desperate to find a way to burn a brew, it probably doesn’t matter too much; it’s likely healers have plenty of resources to keep you up. But trying to purify optimally is still a good goal to have.)

Just like recognizing raid damage patterns, you should be paying attention to what normal tank damage is. The basic concept here is to have a good idea of how much damage is normal, and just make mental notes of what seems to be typical as you progress through a fight. Then, when you see an unusually high amount of stagger, you’ll recognize it as a peak and be able to confidently purify.

This is the display created by, which shows your stagger pool graphically. It’s another great way to figure out when during a fight your stagger pool is highest! It’s also a good way to check if you’re purifying well.

The normalized stagger weakaura can help you with this, or you can pay attention to how much stagger you typically have during a phase of a fight. If you see it higher than normal, it might be a good time to purify.


Normalized Stagger

The Normalized Stagger weakaura just does what it says on the box: it normalizes your stagger, and helps to identify when you have abnormal stagger. It does this by showing you two pieces of information: the raw size of your stagger pool relative to your health pool (just like most other stagger bars, including the default UI), as well as the size of your stagger pool normalized against the amount of damage you’ve been taking in the past 10-13s (this is the new part).

If you’re unfamiliar with normalization, it’s basically just a method to determine what’s normal over a certain period of time, and then to display new values in relation to that calculated normal value. If nothing exciting is happening for a while and you’re cruising along at a fairly constant 60% stagger, the aura will recognize that and will only freak out and start looking scary when you jump up to, say, 100%. But if during another time in the fight you’re not really taking any damage at all and you’re sitting at light stagger, if you jump up to even medium stagger the aura will flag this as a damage spike.

The important thing to remember is that the aura doesn’t understand the fight. It doesn’t know what your damage patterns should be, or what’s coming up in the fight. It’s your responsibility as a tank to take the information the weakaura is giving you and balance that against your understanding of the fight.

If there’s a tank swap, the aura will flag a spike as soon as you take your first melee hit after taking the boss, even though you probably don’t want to purify just yet, because the aura is still adjusting to your new level of damage intake. Similarly, if you get some bad dodge RNG and have an unusually large stagger pool but there’s a tank mechanic coming up, save the purify for after the tank mechanic. The weakaura can be a very helpful tool, but you know the fight better than it does. Use what it tells you to help make decisions when you’re on the fence, but trust your own knowledge of the fight as well.


The Takeaway

Purifying can be really feelycrafty, and there’s rarely an exactly right, exactly perfect time to purify. Part of learning to be a really good brewmaster is coming prepared for when you think you should purify, learning how to manage your brews so you can purify when those times come, and developing good intuition for how best to manage your damage intake when you’re on the fence.

There are no hard and fast rules, and even the guidelines we’ve talked about here can be broken if you think you’ve found a better way to handle a situation. Learning when and how to purify is something that just takes time and experience to learn. Don’t forget to talk to your healers, too! Their input can be really valuable in deciding when you’re in most danger during a fight. If there are times they’re struggling, or times when you’re worried your stagger is too high but nothing else is going on, they’ll be able to tell you.

Use your resources, trust your knowledge and intuition, and try to do a little better every single pull, but most of all: have fun!

 << Part 2: What Makes Stagger Strong | Series Home


  • October 12th, 2018 — Added:
    • Spell Tooltips
    • Navigation Bar
  • September 15th, 2018 – Created

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