Brewmaster Basics: A Guide to Stagger and Brews


Welcome to PeakOfSerenity's Brewmaster Basics series! This set of guides is intended to be an introductory look at Brewmaster fundamentals. While the primary goal here is to provide a casual overview of the specialization and its mechanics, we hope to explain not only how things work, but also why you do certain things and what makes them important. The topic of this guide is Stagger and the two main brews: Ironskin Brew and Purifying Brew. This guide has been updated for Patch 8.0.1 and is regularly updated when discussion, theorycrafting, or testing yields new information.

The Analogy (or the Short Version)

Think of damage like a stream of water. Sometimes it flows faster, and sometimes slower. Stagger is like a bucket, but it’s a really leaky bucket and there are holes all over the sides, so 10% of what’s in the bucket leaks out every second. One thing the bucket does naturally is to help make the flow of water relatively constant, so if there’s a big flood of damage (a big tank ability) followed by some little stuff (melee hits, raid damage) for a while, you catch part of the flood in the bucket and then every second for ten seconds afterward, 10% of the damage that went into the bucket leaks out, plus some extra from the little stuff. Delaying damage by putting it into the bucket can help protect you from being one-shot and gives healers more time to react and heal you.

What Purifying Brew does is dump out half of whatever’s currently in the bucket so it doesn’t touch you. That’s how you mitigate damage as a brewmaster; you purify when there’s a lot of damage in the bucket. The problem is, you can’t do anything about the water that doesn’t go into the bucket, and normally the bucket is only wide enough to catch half of the stream. That’s where Ironskin Brew (ISB) comes in. ISB simply makes the bucket wider so that it can catch a larger percentage of the stream. That means that when you dump the bucket out (purify), you were able to put more water in the bucket and you can dump out a larger percentage of the overall amount, which keeps more of it from hitting you.

You want to keep Ironskin Brew up as much as possible because that means more damage goes into the bucket, and damage has to be in the bucket first for you to dump it out. Purify is important because that’s the part that actually makes you take less damage. If you never dump the bucket out, the water is all going to leak out and hit you anyway, it’ll just hit you over ten seconds rather than all at once.

That’s the short version. Keep Ironskin Brew up as much as possible and then use Purifying Brew when there’s a lot of damage in the bucket. If you don’t have ISB up, then purify doesn’t clear as much, and if you don’t purify then using ISB means you take damage more smoothly but you still get hit by all of it in the end.

Keep reading for the long version! (The very, very long version…)

Stagger Basics

First things first: stagger is the foundation of the brewmaster kit.

Here’s the tooltip again:

stagger tooltip

Let’s break that down.

You shrug off attacks, delaying a portion of Physical damage

All this part is saying is that every time you get hit by an attack, part of the damage will hit you immediately, just like you’d expect. But some of the damage is delayed and gets diverted into what we call the “stagger pool.”

based on your Agility

Your agility determins the percentage of damage that hits you immediately. Higher agility just means that a smaller amount hits you up front.

instead taking it over 10 sec.

So, the damage that went into the “stagger pool” I mentioned? You “stagger” it, which means that you spread the damage out over ten seconds. The stagger mechanic changes the damage so that it instead hits you slowly over time, rather than one big chunk.

Affects magical attacks at 35% effectiveness.

This just means that we don’t stagger magical damage as effectively as physical damage. A larger percentage of a magical attack will hit us up front, and less will go into the dot.

One of the first things you might notice is that it doesn’t really mitigate any of the damage you’re taking — not in the way a paladin might, for example, use Shield of the Righteous to (temporarily) reduce their damage taken by a certain amount. When you take damage as a brewmaster, a certain amount hits you up front, and the rest is staggered. However, the damage you stagger will still hit you over the course of the next ten seconds.

We’re going to take a step back. You’re tanking a boss, and he’s hitting you with melee attacks and the occasional tank ability. Imagine that damage as a stream of water, and you’re standing underneath it. The stream flows fast when there’s a big tank ability (as if you’ve turned a faucet on high for a second), and slower when you’re just getting hit by melees (turning the faucet back down to a trickle). Stagger, then, is like a bucket above your head. The two big problems are that it’s a very leaky bucket with holes all over, and it’s only wide enough to catch some of the water. Some of the water will always hit you without going into the bucket.

The bucket catches some of the water, but some of it still hits you in the face.

Because there are holes all over, when there’s a lot of water in the bucket and the level rises, a lot of water flows out through the holes. When there’s less water in the bucket, the level is lower and a smaller amount leaks out.

(Side Note: the caveat here, and one of a few places the analogy breaks down, is that as the bucket drains, the amount of water hitting you actually stays constant, and doesn’t slowly decrease the way it would with a real bucket. The size of the stagger dot hitting you only changes when you take new damage–not stagger ticks. Okay. Moving on.) 

When tank damage is low, you’ll have less damage in your stagger pool and each stagger tick will be small. When incoming damage is high, the amount of damage in your pool will be high and stagger will tick harder.

If the bucket didn’t exist, a large rush of damage (like a tank ability) would hit you all at once. Because there is a bucket, some of it still hits you right away, but some of it is caught by the bucket and instead slowly leaks out. That’s stagger, and the bucket is the “stagger pool.”

We’re still not mitigating anything, though, and by default stagger only catches about half of the damage. That’s where our brews come into play.


Brews, What They Do, and When to Use Them

Purifying Brew

purifying brew tooltip

Purifying Brew is where the magic happens. Following along with the bucket idea, Purifying Brew allows you to dump out half of what’s currently in the bucket—you get to toss it aside so it doesn’t hit you at all. That’s important, because purifying is one of the most significant sources of brewmaster mitigation.

The two most important things with purification are: 1) don’t purify when it would cause you to drop Ironskin Brew (more on why that matters in just a second), and 2) try to purify when the largest amount of water is in the bucket. This is something most of us have to learn by feel as we learn fights, and difficult to explain briefly. We’ll cover that topic in a lot more depth in Part 3: Guidelines for Purifying. When you’re starting off, just try to time your purifies after tank abilities, or when you’ve got spare brews.

Ironskin Brew

ironskin brew tooltip

That brings us to our other main brew: Ironskin Brew. In a nutshell, ISB makes your bucket wider and allows it to catch a larger percentage of the stream.

ISB increases the width of your bucket, allowing you to divert more damage into your stagger pool.

That’s important because the more damage you catch with the bucket, the less hits you directly in the face. And you can only purify damage that goes into the bucket; once it hits you in the face there’s nothing you can do about it. So, you make the bucket bigger to catch more damage. Then, when there’s a lot of damage in the bucket, you dump half of it out.

Well, maybe not quite that easy—one thing to note is that Purifying Brew and Ironskin Brew share charges. Sometimes you’ll end up in situations where you really want to purify but if you do, you’ll drop ISB. As a result, one of the core skills of brewmaster is learning to balance your ISB uptime with good purifies.

Getting the feel of exactly when to purify and controlling your urge to press the flashy button and panic purify when you know it’s not the right time is easier said than done. Purifying is more of an art than a science, to the eternal dismay of those of us who just want Rules for When to Purify. But now you’ve got the general idea of how it’s done, and you can start practicing it.

The End?

So, just to recap, the most important aspect of stagger is the way it helps to smooth out your incoming damage. Ironskin Brew helps to increase the percentage of incoming damage you stagger, and Purifying Brew removes half of the damage currently in your stagger pool. Staggering damage out over a long period of time is beneficial to both us and our raid or party because it buys both the tank (you) and the healers that little bit of extra time to react to dangerous tank damage.

If you’re interested in more information, head over to Part 2: What Makes Stagger Strong to read about how the whole stagger thing actually makes brewmaster a strong tank. Additionally, if you haven’t read it already, the Brewmaster PVE Guide is probably a good next stop.

Otherwise, that’s it for now — good luck, and have fun!


  • October 12th, 2018 – Added:
    • Spell tooltips
    • Link to Part 3: Guidelines for Purifying
    • Navigation Bar
  • August 11th, 2018 – Created.