Friday, January 22, 2016

To Purify or Not to Purify, That is the Question:

So last night I had a lovely chat with my good friend LeBlue about the state of Brewmasters in the Legion Alpha... as far as they've been data-mined in any case. Specifically, we talked a lot about Purifying Brew and its usefulness to the Brewmaster kit in Legion. Be forewarned: this is all discussion based on said data-mined information. This could all be completely pointless by the time we actually get Brewmasters in a playable state, and is more speculation than not. I don't want this to come off as alarmist or anything of the sort. This post is purely a supposition of how the spec could play based on current data and knowledge that we have.

For those who aren't aware, Blizzard just recently gave word about their intentions for tanks this expansion. To give a quick summary of what they've said, it's basically as follows:

  • Tanks will be relying more on their healers to survive damage
  • Active Mitigation should feel useful
  • Long cooldowns will be made longer, so they can't be used for all dangers in an encounter
  • Tanks should be more tanky than DPS and healers, but not crazily so
  • Tanks should spend more time actively tanking in encounters
Now, what THAT can be boiled down to is that tanks will - if the plan sticks - take less burst damage than currently. We effectively saw a second tank squish across the board with the latest major Alpha patch, including the nerfing of pretty much all the external CD's that healers have. With the reduced effectiveness of tanking tools and less beef for the meat shields, naturally spike damage is going to have to take a bit of a dive. This presents a very tricky problem in the case of Brewmasters.

Purifying Brew, present day

Purifying Brew is a pretty iconic ability of ours. It dates back all the way to the beginning, in Mists of Pandaria's beta. Back in Mists, and even so recent as 6.0, Purifying was a significant aspect of our kit. As the tooltip says (and I know most of you know it already, but bear with me I have a point to all this!), Purifying Brew clears all of our staggered damage, getting rid of the DoT that builds up naturally when we take physical damage.

Here's the problem with Purifying Brew: It isn't a means of damage reduction. While I think it was designed as a way to ensure that Brewmasters did reduce some of their incoming damage, its design also tells me it is meant to be more of a burst-reduction tool than a damage-reduction tool.

I posit the question, why do we purify? The answer is because stagger damage stacks high enough that, combined with the pre-staggered damage we take, we receive enough burst damage that it needs to be removed. We don't just do it because we take the damage. After all, we've all pretty much ignored a bunch of green stagger when we aren't in danger of being burst down. It's able to be healed through and we don't have to worry about it.

Purifying Brew and Ironskin Brew, as data-mined from Legion

The trouble is, in an expansion where healers are going to be doing more of the work for us and where burst intake is going to be lower, a burst-reduction tool like Purifying Brew does lose a good chunk of its value. If anyone's been paying attention to what LeBlue's been saying over the past couple of weeks in the Peak of Serenity Discord, you'll know he's been spreadsheeting out just when purifying in Legion a good idea. Turns out, it pretty much never is. A reduction in burst damage hits Brewmasters fairly notably. We were designed as extremely potent anti-burst tanks, at the cost of taking more overall damage due to how stagger functions.

With a smaller focus on burst damage, not only is stagger less potent for our survivability compared to other tank mechanics, so is purifying. As I mentioned before, Purifying Brew is more of an anti-burst tool than anything else. Even though we aren't playable in the game yet, I think that the recent change to tank dynamics could hit Brewmasters decently hard. This isn't to say that I disagree with the reasons those changes occurred or that they were put on the table at all, but that's neither here nor there. Ultimately, in an expansion where burst damage matters less and more damage will need to be soaked up by healers, damage taken will matter more. I sincerely doubt it will matter more than reducing burst damage because honestly that's never been the case, but we're an anti-burst, higher damage taken spec and we're going into an expansion where damage taken is going to matter more. That has potential for concern.

So what can be done about it? The answer LeBlue and I thought up is that Purifying Brew should become a proper damage mitigation tool, rather than just a spike mitigation tool. Allow it to provide some amount of either straight DR, absorb, or healing after a successful purify, scaling it in some way so that the more damage you purified, the more powerful this effect is. This gives you a couple of effects: Firstly and most importantly, it gives Brewmasters a significant way of turning stagger into true damage reduction, albeit with strings attached. This will allow them to fare a bit better in an environment where their originally designed talent of burst reduction is less important, while still keeping their means of dealing with damage fairly unique. Secondly, it brings back just enough complexity for the spec so that you have a place to show you are a better Brewmaster than another. The spec as is currently seems to be fairly simple, with the only significant damage reduction at a moment by moment basis  really being Ironskin Brew. Simple isn't bad, mind you. Simplifying the spec was something that I said needed to happen. But currently, the spec's just a bit more complicated than Wrath Protection Paladins, which personally strikes me as a bit underwhelming. Having Purifying Brew mean something more has significant potential of giving us back its dynamic with Ironskin Brew (previously Shuffle), which would make the spec feel a bit more interesting than how it looks right now. I'd like to see that.

Obviously, we still don't know how the artifact's going to play into this, but I think that the potential issues here are that of mechanics, rather than numbers. Purifying Brew is probably going to need tweaks in order for it to be a useful part of our kit again, provided LeBlue's spreadsheeting is accurate within the game. And obviously, all of this could be rendered superfluous in the next update! Who knows but Blizzard, right?

Throw me your comments either here or on Twitter, lemme know what you think!

See ya next time!
-The Brewing Scribe