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

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