Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Thoughts on the Legion Brewmaster Changes

"The brewmaster is a quirky character, though dangerous when underestimated. Brewmasters may seem to struggle with balance as they chug their concoctions in the middle of a fight, but this unpredictable behavior is far from foolhardiness. Most opponents barely have time to process the erratic nature of the brewmaster’s fighting tactics before they find themselves laid low—possibly the result of a keg smash to the head. When an opponent actually manages to land an attack, it’s often unclear how much the brewmaster feels it . . . if at all."
-Official Monk Blog Post

The Brewaster specialization has gone through a lot in the three years they've been playable. I've seen it develop, I've seen it changed, I've played through buffs, nerfs, and all manner of tweaks. These changes are definitely interesting. If you want to take a full look at the changes, you can find them here

The long and short of it, for those of you who just want the quick and dirty version, is that Brewmasters are now about cooldowns. Your energy spenders reduce the general cooldown on your significant active mitigation abilities (Ironskin Brew, which increases stagger amount, and Purifying Brew, no significant change mechanically. Both have shared charges). This is actually kinda what I had in mind for Elusive Brew, but it looks like that ability got turned into our new mastery, where we get an increased chance to dodge whenever we are hit. That's definitely an interesting mastery, though I suspect that we're going to largely be going haste, for maximum shuffle and purifying potential.

But anyway let's get right down to it and discuss EVERYTHING that's here.

So for starters, Ironskin Brew and Purifying brew. Both have a 20 second cooldown for each charge, with a max of three charges shared between both abilities. I honestly LOVE this change. It's all going back to what I originally said about the shuffle / purify dynamic during Mists beta, where you have to make a real choice between maintaining high stagger, but not so much that you're overwhelmed by the staggered damage. This strikes me as a good way to handle that, at least on paper. You're probably still going to favor Ironskin Brew more often, but you can't just spam it in its entirety. Not sure if Ironskin Brew will have the stacking duration of today's Shuffle, though. We also know that Soul Dance is being baked into stagger at 50% effectiveness, so this is going to make Brewmasters far better at handling magic damage.

Gift of the Ox's changes actually sound pretty neat. It's more reactive to your principle focus of tanking and unlike today's Gift of the Ox it actually improves when dealing with more than one enemy, so it naturally scales. The one big concern I have is that even though boss movement is being fixed very soon... I am not sure if I like Gift of the Ox being the only self heal available to us. There's something to be said about the security one has when using Expel Harm to heal one's self. You don't have to worry about screwing up positioning. Perhaps it's an overly-sensitive worry, but as a tank, when you say that I need to move around in a fight where I am positioning a boss in order to get heals... I get a bit anxious. That being said, it wasn't ever really too big a deal back when I actually did do hardcore raiding (or even bosses in Warlords), and as long as the movement fix is good, it shouldn't be too big an issue, I think. Our base damage reduction and our new active mitigation is just going to have to be really solid in order for this change to not be too icky.

Our Mastery, as I mentioned earlier, has also received a significant change. It's now called Elusive Brawler and we get additional dodge until our next dodge whenever we are hit. On the one hand, I do like that we've moved away from stagger mastery as that was going to be stupid hard to balance well as I mentioned before Blizzcon, but at the same time, dodge has always classically been great at reducing overall damage intake... but awful at reducing burst intake, because of its RNG nature. Even though this mastery is actually designed to help eliminate some of that RNG, it's still going to be really bad at burst smoothing. You have no control over when you are hit and when you dodge. Even if there is an ability which pretty much mimics Elusive Brew, you're still going to have that issue. This will be a cool, unique way to reduce overall damage taken, but it suffers from the classical problem of avoidance tanks: you lack the capacity to control damage intake. As I said earlier, because we are primarily getting mitigation from cooldowns and we reduce those cooldowns via energy spenders, haste is going to likely be our big stat.

Keg Smash didn't change much. It got the increased range major glyph baked in, so it now has a range of 15 yards, and it will now reduce the cooldown of our Brews by 4 seconds. Now the interesting question here is whether or not the cooldown reduction works on Fortifying Brew, if that's still around. That could be an interesting thing to play around, though my instinct is that it only affects the active mitigation brews, rather than the long cooldown one. Tiger Palm has a similar functionality, except it reduces the cooldown of our Brews by 1 second instead. It also actually has a cost now, at 25 energy. Gone are the days of Tiger Palm filler spam. That last bit I think is a little disappointing. I greatly enjoyed being able to press buttons without waiting for energy. It was the reason I enjoyed monk play compared to rogue play, where I felt like I wasn't doing more than waiting for energy. That gameplay felt too slow and boring for my tastes.

But let's actually explore that! How often will we be waiting for energy? Simply enough, at base energy regen, you generate 80 energy in 8 seconds. 40 of that is used for Keg Smash, and then Tiger Palm uses another 25, so you have a surplus of 15 left. So basically for every Keg Smash cooldown, you generate enough energy for 1.6 Tiger Palms. Rounding that down to 1, that's now 6 empty GCD's, if you include Keg Smash. You also get (again, rounding down) two Blackout Strikes / Breath of Fires (talking more about them later, but suffice it to say, they have a shared 3 second cooldown,) which means there's now 4 empty GCD's.

That sounds a bit worrisome, but keep in mind that I rounded down quite a bit here. In actual combat, more GCD's are going to be used up. As well, you also have to think about the active talents we are going to be getting. If some of those are rotational, then that could make Brewmaster feel better. To reiterate, the 50% number would be at the absolute worst point where all of your cooldowns and energy don't really want to line up well, in a very small, very specific timeframe, all at 0 haste with no other abilities than the ones mentioned. While there is likely to still be downtime, having it be as bad as this will be rare or even unheard of in practice. This is probably my biggest worry for how Brewmaster's going to be in Legion. I really enjoyed that even though I was waiting on energy or a cooldown, I ALWAYS had something to do, something to press. Furthermore, that's at base energy regen. As we get more, we can use Tiger Palm more, and therefore have less open GCD's. If Ironskin Brew and Purifying Brew are somehow now on the GCD, that's even less open GCD's. That the spec has slowed down, even if it's only for a couple GCD's per 8 seconds... that doesn't really sound good. I enjoyed the fast, active style of Brewmaster. It really should feel like I'm constantly doing something, or I'm probably going to end up frustrated and disappointed.

So Blackout Strike and Breath of Fire. Blizzard did the thing that I suggested! Kinda! As I mentioned earlier in that little theorycrafting spiel, they share a cooldown and which one you use will be determined by whether you want to do single target damage or AoE damage. This is actually a pretty cool change and one that I like. Breath of Fire finally has some use for us.

The Elusive Dance talent is another interesting thing. Again it's not really great at reducing burst, but it does make purifying a bit more skill-based and more rewarding, which is cool. It feels a bit underwhelming at least to me because of that, but there is some synergy with our new mastery. The more dodge we have before factoring in mastery, the more likely that we will get a dodge due to our mastery's increase in a lower number of melee hits. This is again something that really needs to be tested in-game for any real understanding of how good it is.

Overall, I'm pretty excited to try out this new Brewmaster, but I can't help but feel that there's some changes that could be very worrying depending on whether Blizzard adds more to our kit and priority. There's some stuff I really like, and some stuff that makes me a bit hesitant. And again, this is all really just rambling until I can actually get my hands on the beta.

This is going to be a bit of a fluid document. There's bound to be a lot of questions on these changes, and I'll be updating it a bit when any pertinent ones get an answer or clarification.

Demon Hunter Dissection - Vengeance Returns!

Bit later than I expected, but I finally have a bit of time to talk about the new Demon Hunter class, with a focus on Vengeance.

I didn't really get a chance to play with their abilities proper at the BlizzCon demo, but they - and my respective thoughts on them - are as follows, according to the amazingness that is Wowhead:

Hateful Strike is an ability which deals increasing physical damage as the target's health is lowered, costing 30 'pain,' an as-of-now unheard of resource. Presumably, pain will be generated when taking damage, but I haven't seen any real information on it just yet. When I actually did the demo, I gave the feedback that I'd like it if the demon hunter's playstyle changes a bit with your enemy's health. I found this later, and I can't help but feel a bit happy. If this follows through with some more meaningful differences in playstyle, things could get very interesting for Vengeance.

Fel Blood is a LONG (and by long I mean 15 minutes long) cooldown where 40% of your damage taken is converted into fury, your spender resource. Duration of 5 seconds. Aside from a sliiiiiight need for tuning changes, this is pretty much what I thought Demon Hunter tanking would be like. You take damage, shrug it off, and laugh evilly as you start murdering the guy who thought he could hurt you so easily. If Fel Blood's core mechanics don't change, it has a lot of possibilities down the road when we get more information on Vengeance's full ability list.

Voidblade deals notable shadow damage and heals you for the amount of damage you dealt. Pretty simple, pretty expected. This is a fury spender (and spends 65 fury, specifically), so it's going to combo well with Fel Blood for a LOT of self healing. Once every 15 minutes.

Metamorphosis is perhaps going to be one of my favorite long cooldowns in the game. You get full fury and full health, and you take 60% less damage at max health, gaining even more damage reduction as you drop in health. For 15 seconds on a 2 minute cooldown, this thing is going to be a very highly-pressed button.

Also, it turns you into a demon, what's not to like about that??

Getting to play around with the Demon Hunter was an interesting experience. Their dash was really fun to use and felt a lot like a more visceral roll. Their glide was a bit less useful to me personally, as you can't trigger it while mounted. It's a really cool ability that I'd have loved to use a bit more, but I didn't feel like dismounting and remounting was practical most of the time. Being said, doubt it's designed to be the Demon Hunter's principle travel method, so whatever. Spectral Sight, if any of you watched the demo of it, reduces your movement speed, which to me felt very awkward. I get WHY it's there, thematically, but I'm not sure it really fits the Demon Hunter. My understanding is Spectral Sight is how Demon Hunters see all the time. They see magic and life energy, not the physical. It's just not something you have on all the time because that'd be very annoying for the player.

That being said, I don't know if I'll be going Vengeance in Legion as a main. Certainly as an alt, but I'm looking forward to playtesting the Brewmaster changes. That's going to be very interesting.

Monday, November 9, 2015

BlizzCon 2015 Summation

While we don't have too much on Brewmasters just yet, I figure this would be a perfect time to have a little summation of all the stuff we learned about them at BlizzCon this year, as well as ramble on about my thoughts on such. So without further ado, let's get started!

General Tanking Information

Despite not getting a lot of information from the main panels, I got to go to the Darkmoon Faire panels on Friday and Saturday and got to listen to the answers to quite a few awesome tanking questions, as well as ask a couple of my own.
  • Active mitigation is being reduced in importance, citing the "survive or die" gameplay that emerged from it, creating a higher skill-floor than they felt was optimal. Overall, there will be a change from resource management being the principle factor of successful active mitigation play to timing. Still important, but there's more wiggle-room for newer tanks.
  • Big cooldowns (e.g. Shield Wall, Fortifying Brew, etc) will now count as active mitigation!
  • Wonky boss movement is being fixed! In 6.2.3!!
  • Resolve is being removed as a standalone mechanic and abilities have been designed to no longer rely on it.
  • Tank damage and tank damage intake are going to be more integrated. Blizzard said that if a tank is doing well as a tank, they should be doing good damage.
  • Talents are going to be an awesome way to boost tank damage. All specs are getting more unique talent options, so there's a lot more opportunity for fun choices for us.

Overall, I'm super excited about these changes. For Brewmasters especially, I know the skill-floor is really high because of the extreme importance of our active mitigation. Having that be reduced will be better in the long run for us and our balancing (anyone remember 6.0 and the buffs?)

If I were to greatly generalize all of this, I'd call them great quality-of-life changes. Active mitigation is still present, but it's being restructured to be a bit easier for newer players. We're getting more damage, more customization of our kits, resolve is being removed in favor of something a bit more unique to each ability. Cooldowns count as active mitigation, which for us Brewmasters is SUPER awesome. Boss movement is being fixed not this expansion, but this coming patch! While I'm curious to see how the Brewmaster active mitigation changes play, overall I think this is a very healthy list of changes. A lot of the things that didn't feel amazing about Warlords tanking seems to be addressed here, so it's good that Blizzard seems intent on making tank play more pleasing.

Celestalon, Dave Kosak, Craig Amai, and Scott Johnson at the Friday Darkmoon Faire panel

Brewmaster-Specific Information

We didn't get too much in the way of Brewmaster information, but the little bit we got is quite interesting so far. Here's what we got:

  • Brewmaster active mitigation will focus around a HUGE stagger buff and then purifying it.
  • Larger focus on Brewmasters being the nimble, dodgy type of tank. Not sure where Elusive Brew and Guard figure into this specifically.
  • Soul Dance is going to be merged into stagger

So we won't get the specifics of all of the big changes till Wednesday, but it's kinda looking like Blizzard is turning Brewmasters on their head a little bit. The new stagger dynamic is actually really like how I thought Shuffle and Purifying Brew were going to work way back in the Mists of Pandaria beta in 2012, so I'm very excited to see how this plays out. I think this is going to provide very interesting gameplay and really just optimizes and clarifies how that relationship was SUPPOSED to work in Mists and Warlords (with the exception of 6.0 content where we got pretty close to this). Soul Dance being merged into stagger, something I heard from the man Celestalon himself, is really cool. As a talent, it was always such a cool idea, but had almost no usefulness in actual gameplay. This is also a great way to solve a core problem with Brewmasters: our ability to handle magic damage. Not really much more to say about it, I'm pretty happy with it.

On a more worrying note, Blizzard is going to be focusing more on our fantasy of a drunken brawler, a character who either dodges hits, or when they ARE hit, it doesn't really seem like they took the damage. On one hand I do like that fantasy, don't get me wrong. It's a cool dynamic, and I very much enjoy that idea. That being said, avoidance tanks have classically always had problems with balance and effectiveness. Blizzard's really going to have to be on point in order for us to be solid. The talk about how Guard didn't really play well into the fantasy is also a bit worrisome. Guard was pretty much the only way that we were able to be effective in 6.2, because everything else about us (read: our fantasy-focused mechanics) were nerfed to the bottom of vashj'ir. Getting rid of it is going to be one less thing that Blizzard can use to ensure we're balanced, so they are going to have to do a lot to ensure what we have is solid. Alternatively provide us another type of cooldown that does fit the fantasy, but is still useful. One of the two.

We also didn't hear anything about Elusive Brew. Is it becoming more important? Less important? Is it being pushed somewhere else? There's nothing really more to say here except "let's wait till Wednesday!"

Brewmaster Artifact

So this is actually a bit more lorey, but I'm super excited about this.

Basically, we have the Monkey king's staff. The Monkey King being the hozen friend of Emperor Shaohao. There's actually a LOT of lore being referenced here. Our staff is a culmination of the history of Pandaria's woods, its denizens, it's deities, and the Titan's watchers. It's fair to say that this staff is not just a symbol of Pandaria, but it IS Pandaria. It is it's culture, with its brew stein / cask. It is it's history, being made from the branch of the first ever tree of the land. It is it's deities and legends, being a famous possession of Yu'lon, then the Monkey King.

But most importantly, we get a cask of brew on a staff. That just SCREAMS Brewmaster! Hopefully it'll come in a coloration that matches our Mists Challenge Mode transmog. Either way, this thing looks awesome, and I am super excited to check out all of them.

Sometime tonight, I'll make a quick post on Vengeance Demon Hunters! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Inaugural Post

Hello friends! Thanks for taking a quick peek at my blog.

BlizzCon is right at our doorstep and we're bound to get a lot of juicy details on the expansion. That includes our beloved Brewmaster!

There's been a lot of changes to Brewmasters throughout Warlords of Draenor. First were the buffs to baseline Stagger and Guard, right at the beginning. The general understanding of the spec was that the skill floor of the Brewmaster was too high, and some players were unable to play effectively because of it. Then came the weird change; Way of the Monk 2h was buffed, making staves and polearms all but a requirement for Brewmasters due to the obscene amount of EB we received. Lastly, the inevitable - and foreseen - nerfs. Stagger was removed from Shuffle and while we got some more armor on our stance, the reversion of the baseline Stagger buff and the removal of its capacity to work on attacks which ignore armor had an impact. Guard was still super strong, if not overpowered.

Being someone who is studying game design and has in fact done some class design work on his own game, I like to see what the troubles of my favorite classes are, and how they could possibly be fixed. A rumor has flown around about how Blizzard intends to remove Stagger as a mechanic and replace it with something else. While an interesting decision, I personally LIKE Stagger. It's a really cool, unique mechanic. That being said, yes it is an incredibly difficult thing to balance... in it's current state. But that's part of the challenge and the fun, I think!

While I have sadly not had much experience raiding this expansion (curse you, school!), I keep up to date with several Brewmaster raiders and their thoughts. And while I haven't had experience with Warlords Brewmasters, I was one of the pioneers of the Brewmaster community during the Mists of Pandaria beta and a top Brewmaster during tier 14 back when I had the time (and hardware) to raid. I know the spec inside and out, and I've known it well for the three years it's been available to us.

So without further ado, let's get started, shall we?

The way I see it, Brewmasters have three core issues as a spec. Firstly, the insane degree to which Stagger scales with gear. Secondly, the unpredictability - and therefore unreliability - of their current active mitigation (Looking at you, Elusive Brew!) Thirdly, because of all the moving parts, Brewmasters suffer from a high skill floor and have a handful of trap abilities and talents. By trap abilities, I mean abilities which sound cool on paper, but are in fact detrimental to optimal play the majority of the time.

Tackling the first issue, Stagger is a mechanic that is attempting to replace armor and offer the Brewmaster unique play around such. The issue is, unlike armor, which has diminishing returns, the more Stagger you have, the more effective it is. Because its relative power changes over time and over gear, it's then difficult to really get it in a balanced place. What might be balanced for higher end Brewmasters might be poorly balanced for Brewmasters who are just starting to get gear. And that's bad. But at the same time, it can't be too powerful for the lower end, because then the high end Brewmasters become drunken, all-powerful tanking gods.

So what I propose is get rid of Stagger from our mastery. Have it be a purely baseline thing. That way, it's very much like baseline armor buffs. The tuning knob for it is easily visible and allows for a more solid control over Brewmaster balancing regardless of gear, for gear would contribute to things on top of Stagger, not just Stagger itself. "But," I hear you ask, "What then do you have for Mastery?" A fair question! I personally think that PB has had little time in the spotlight of our spec. The dynamic it had with Shuffle was one of my favorite ones to think about, back in the Mists beta. In the earlier parts of 6.0, I really enjoyed that it was something you really had to be cognizant of. So my suggestion for PB is that it would grant a shield of a base amount, plus an additional percentage depending on how much damage you purified. Our mastery could affect one or both of those values. Alternatively, temporarily increase the amount of damage you stagger for a period of time depending on the amount of damage purified. Both provide additional tuning methods for the devs and reward skilled play, while providing lower players an incentive for purifying. The trouble with this is then why spend chi on anything else? Well like the original paradigm of chi expenditure, you were supposed to use chi for both BoK (for Shuffle) and PB. I'll get back to this later, as I want to first talk about what I think should happen to EB.

The trouble about EB is that while the RNG of its stack generation is manageable via holding off on using the ability, it is ultimately an unreliable tool against burst damage. Dodge and parry have always classically been really only effective at reducing damage taken overall, over an extended period of time. It is horribly unreliable for reducing burst. So how to fix it? Well this is where BoK comes in. What I think EB should be is either an increase to stagger or a flat damage reduction percentage on a relatively longish cooldown. BoK, can reduce the length of that cooldown. It's no longer about maintaining the buff, but rather using BoK often enough that your CD is in an optimal place, but not doing such too much that purify isn't being neglected. The trick here would be ensuring that EB's usefulness is about where it is today - as a general damage reducer as well as fairly useful as a spike dampener - without overshadowing PB. Alternatively, have the CD reduction be from AA crits, same as now, but BoK work in a similar way to how Word of Glory works for Prot Pallies, but for PB. The less interconnection there means it's easier to get the balancing of the different methods of damage reduction on track.

As far as the skill floor goes, I think that's a difficult thing to manage. The Brewmaster has always been about almost all active mitigation. You can't really change that much without watering down the identity and fantasy of the spec. With the changes suggest here, I think that the Brewmaster becomes a touch easier. There's no longer the pressure of maintaining and monitoring your EB and Shuffle buffs, though putting more defensive focus on actively using abilities. It brings a different mindset, one that I think is easier for players to learn.

The trap abilities that I mentioned earlier are also not too bad to deal with. The notable ones are BoF, Chi Torpedo, and Soul Dance. There's some fine-tuning that could be done on a lot of Brewmaster abilities but those are the three big ones that I've either never used or are severely niche. Starting with my favorite ability on every Warcraft Brewmaster except the WoW one, BoF is such a cool fantasy and such a cool ability, but it fails to really be useful in a meaningful capacity aside from an interrupt tool in dungeons when glyphed. A solution is quite simple, actually. Have it mirror BoK. Several classes have abilities that have different fantasies but are more or less similar in effective use. Hammer of the Righteous and Crusader Strike. Heroic Strike and Cleave. Brewmasters could have BoK and BoF.

Chi Torpedo is more difficult. That talent tier is more about damage, while Chi Torpedo really is an odd mismatch of damage, healing, and movement. Moving around in the middle of a boss fight, if you are tanking ANYTHING, has potentially disastrous consequences. So what to replace it with? RJW is something that is more about consistent AoE damage. Xuen is, I think the more single target focused CD. The third talent could be something like... High Proof Brew. Could increase damage from BoF on all targets affected and would be applied by Keg Smash. Bit more of a bursty AoE. Plus, it synergizes with the original Brewmastery fantasy and gives BoF a bit more of a spotlight for once!

Soul Dance is such a cool ability in concept, but it really fails to be effective most of the time. Possible changes could be that it gives a flat magic reduction to a cooldown ability such as EB, or that it gives a stacking buff of magic reduction with BoK/BoF. Tie it to our active mitigation, somehow. Or, if Stagger doesn't really change as you get gear, then you can just buff it. I believe it's low because Brewmasters get a lot of Stagger via mastery, and it's an attempt to future-proof the spec. But if it's fixed, then it's relatively easy to have it work off Stagger a bit more.

Only time will tell if these ideas are prophetic, or simply the thoughts of a guy who just really likes to theorycraft these kinds of things, but I hope that you've enjoyed the insights and ideas! Stay tuned for my thoughts on what Blizzard ultimately decided to do with our lovely spec in Legion.

Love and hugs,

The Brewing Scribe