Thursday, February 18, 2016

Fu Zan Wanders into my Heart: An analysis of Brewmaster Artifact Traits

While the proper activation of Brewmasters on the alpha has eluded us once again (with a slight hiccough yesterday when people could spec as one for all of an afternoon), we've finally gotten something really juicy to tear apart apart. And that, friends, is Fu Zan's artifact traits! Oh man, so when I first saw these, I just thought "Oh god this is great" and for those of you who haven't seen them at all, here they are in a short summation. I'll be going into detail about each trait down below, so stick with me!
  • Adjunct Advantage - Increases the damage of Breath of Fire by 5-15%.
  • Brew-Stache - When you consume a Brew, you gain 25% dodge for 2.5 sec.
  • Dark Side of the Moon - Take 5-15% less damage from the next attack after your Blackout Strike.
  • Dragonfire Brew - Casting Breath of Fire surrounds you with flame for until cancelled, dealing 1 Fire damage over 0 and reducing the cooldown of your brews by 1 sec when an enemy is hit.
  • Even Handed - Paralysis can now be cast on two targets.
  • Fortification - When you activate Fortifying Brew, Elusive Brawler stacks are not consumed by dodges for the next 21 seconds.
  • Gifted Student - Increases the healing granted by Gift of the Ox orbs by 5-15%.
  • Healthy Appetite - Increases maximum health by 5-15%.
  • Obsidian Fists - Increases the critical strike chance of Blackout Strike by 5-15%.
  • Overflow - Any time a Gift of the Ox is generated, it has a chance to be a Greater Gift of the Ox that heals for twice as much.
  • Pawsed - Tiger Palm has a 5-15% chance to reduce the cooldown of your Brews by one sec.
  • Potent Kick - Increases the duration of Ironskin Brew by 0.5-1.5 sec.
  • Smashed - Increases the range of Keg Smash by 5-15 yards.
  • Staggering Around - Increases the Stagger granted by Fortifying Brew by 2-6%.
  • Swift as a Coursing River - Drinking a Brew increases your movement speed by 10% for 10 sec. This effect stacks up to five times.
  • Wanderer's Special - Drink deep from Fu Zan's special Brew, granting you the power of flaming breath, fortitude, or elusiveness.

Couple more things to note before I deep-dive into all the new info: For those of you wondering why those numbers I just quoted are a lot less than the datamined ranges, it's because you can bump up trait ranks via relics, so basically to know the true cap, double the numbers shown here for the minor traits. As well, obviously this is all only relevant with the current date's build (February 18th's). Tuning changes WILL occur, so the numbers posted above and below are subject to change.

Adjunct Advantage is a minor trait which gives up to 15% additional damage on Breath of Fire. Honestly there's not much to say here other than I feel it's nice that BoF gets a bit of love. Not only is it becoming more useful (as in... actually usable) in Legion, it's getting some nice buffs from our artifact. Could this be something more interesting? Sure. But I don't think it needs to. Breath of Fire should feel cool to use, and this is definitely going to help that. Very solid, in my opinion.

Brew-Stache, apart from having one of the best artifact trait names in the alpha thus far, is a major trait which grants 25% dodge for 2.5 seconds when you consume a Brew. So this is complicated. I know a lot of you guys are thinking "Oh man, more dodge?" and that there is a very real worry of RNG for the spec. Being said, this synergizes super well with stagger and our mastery. The more we dodge, the far less DTPS we take because of stagger. Plus, napkin math has shown that you'll average around 5ish seconds (at 0 haste) between CD's of your brews, so this could very well have an approximate 50% uptime. That's pretty decent.

It's basically a passive Elusive Brew, for all intents and purposes. Which is neato.

Dark Side of the Moon is not only a reference to Mulan, but also one of the most freaking amazing minor traits we have. Like, holy butts guys this thing is banaynays. 15% reduced damage for the next attack after BoS at max ranks, sans relics. With relics, that's bumped up to a potential 30%. Keep in mind, that's BEFORE stagger. Against a single target boss and standard swing time, that's basically saying that if you can use BoS on cooldown, every other attack deals 5-30% less damage. That's HUGE. We better hope a relic for this thing drops, because it's going to basically be required. 

Dragonfire Brew is another of our major traits which basically gives us an immolation aura that makes Breath of Fire an actually defensive tool. So there's a couple things that I'm not sure about. Is this an ability which deals damage to you? The language of it being an ability that lasts until canceled seems to infer so. Another thing, does DFB reduce the CD of our brews by 1 second per enemy hit, or is it just checking to see of an enemy is hit and then reduces the CD? The tooltip here is a bit too vague for me to tell in any case. But let's have a discussion about it anyway!

Assuming it deals damage to you, that makes this ability very niche. I don't think tanks are going to appreciate taking damage (unless it's not really that significant, in which case, why have it there?) for using Breath of Fire. My first instinct as a tank is to use this only when I'm not worried about incoming damage. So using this in a high-stress environment seems counter-intuitive. Considering how decently quick we can theoretically use brews, assuming that it reduces brew CD's by 1 sec per enemy hit, this would basically allow us to spam purify while still keeping up ISB. Which means it MIGHT be a net benefit in certain large mob packs, but I think that feeling out when this is a benefit has a very real danger of being super hard to tell without addon help. If this is how it is intended to function, I see this trait as a high skillcap modification to BoF and having a very real potential of being a trap trait, just like how BoF was a trap ability in previous expansions. Ultimately I can't really say anything more definitively till I find a chance to playtest the Brewmaster once it goes live, but these are my concerns with DFB.

I like the idea of BoF being a more useful ability for defense in AoE though. Perhaps it could change to a limited duration which refreshes on a BoF cast that requires 3+ enemies to reduce the CD of our brews. Either once per tick, or once per enemy per tick. Making this an ability that you don't need a spreadsheet for in order to figure out when it's useful would go a long way in making it more enticing a choice.

Even Handed is a minor trait which allows you to cast Paralysis on up to two targets. This is a neat little ability that has a lot of potential uses... from "OH SHIT" situations to CCing prior to pulling trash. That being said, there's one concern that was brought up on the Peak of Serenity discord by Ora, which was that there is no mention of a charge system or removing Paralysis' CD. So as some of you guys know, I'm studying to become a game designer. That makes me feel a bit conflicted here. On one hand as a player, I'm a bit miffed that (and this was also brought up by Ora) you can't use this very efficiently for setting up CC during challenge modes. Needing to wait that 15 seconds in order to throw this on another mob is not a good thing when you've got a bunch of packs to deal with over the course of the dungeon and you're already on the clock.

On the other hand as a designer, I'm thinking perhaps that's intentional. Too much CC in the game makes those pulls very easy to handle and by keeping the CD on Paralysis, perhaps Blizzard is attempting to make it into an ability that allows you to a bit more efficiently handle anything that breaks CC a bit early or perhaps a roaming mob that's coming a bit too close to the pack you're already dealing with. This is again something that needs to really be played with in order to feel whether or not it's a useful trait (and asking Blizzard why they designed it this way wouldn't hurt either I think), but there's something neat here.

Fortification is a beast of a major trait, effectively making our mastery utterly overpowered for 21 seconds. So essentially, Fortification removes the limiting factor of our mastery by allowing us to retain the increased dodge chance it provides. At 21 seconds duration, that gives it a very real possibility of giving us 100% dodge. Especially if you're pro or lucky and can time your Fort Brew just when you're at a good number of stacks. To bring us a bit back down to earth, because of the nature of how our mastery works, it isn't really all that likely we'll regularly hit 100% dodge with this. The more dodge we have, the less chance we have to get another stack. So while this allows us to maintain a very high dodge chance for a considerable amount of time, it isn't likely going to make us literally immune to dodge-able hits.

That being said, combined with Staggering Around (more on that later), ISB, and our tier 19 2 piece (+10% stagger on ISB), that means FB gives us 20% stagger (getting us up to 86-92%, depending on whether you have a relic for SA (which means 43-46% of magic damage is staggered), 20% reduced damage, and 20% increased health. All of that combined means that Fortifying Brew could very well be the single most powerful tanking cooldown in the game. This just miiiiiiight make the talent which reduces its CD like the rest of our Brews a bit more lucrative.

Gifted Student is a contentious minor trait if only because it deals with the ever-disliked Gift of the Ox. This bumps up the healing of each GotO orb by up to 15% (30% with relics). So here's the question. GotO as it works in Legion will heal us for 25% of our max HP. So the question here is whether or not GS is an additive or multiplicative modifier to GotO. If it's additive, that means a GotO orb will heal (at max) for 40-55% of our max health... which is pretty huge. That's got a very real chance of overhealing, or just being utterly ridiculously effective.

So then it's more likely it's multiplicative. Which means that GotO would heal for 28.75% to 32.5% of our max health... which is kinda nice but it's not really that significant. This seems like it's trying to be a quality of life trait... which is fine, but the tuning might need to be messed with, depending.

Healthy Appetite is another quality of life minor trait, giving us up to 15% maximum health (30% with relics). Honestly there's not too much more to discuss with this trait. It's pretty cut and dry. I could potentially maybe see a use for relic-boosting this for high magic fights, but otherwise it's just a nice thing to make us a bit stronger.

That being said... Blizzard, if you are miraculously gracing this blog with your presence, please do not change the icon for this. It's perfect.

I'm serious. There is nothing that could improve on this icon. Except maybe more cheese.

Obsidian Fists is yet another quality of life trait, which  increases the crit strike chance of Blackout Strike by up to 15% (30% with relics). Relic-boosting would be useful for when you want some extra damage, but otherwise, again, just a nice quality of life trait. NEXT!

Overflow is a minor trait which essentially means GotO can crit, though not subject to your actual crit chance. I think this and Gifted Student are Blizzard's attempt at cementing GotO's use as a big heal that you can save for later. the benefit of having the orbs on the ground means that you know which ones will "crit" and which ones wont. Provided they spawn appropriately, that means you can selectively move into the "crit" orb when you've just taken a big hit and heal for a large chunk of health. 

Of course, there's a lot of problems with that which make it more complicated than I just laid out. For one thing, where they spawn is random, so you might get the "crit" one in the same pile of regular ones that you had saved up. And even that pile isn't really guaranteed. For another, there's the classical issue of requiring the Brewmaster to move and pick up the orbs, which makes GotO far less useful as an emergency heal than something you can just auto-cast on yourself. It's the difference between your reaction time and your reaction time plus moving through the physical space in the game. both are also affected by latency, the latter more so. There's issues with how GotO functions and the community I think has fairly reasonably discussed its negatives. Personally, I'm alriiight with it? It depends on how important GotO will really be to survivability. If it's supposed to be a significant mechanic, having something similar to how Vengeance demon hunters handle their equivalent would go a long way to improving the ability.

With a punny name, Pawsed gives Tiger palm a chance of up to 15% (30 with relics) to reduce the cooldown of our brews by one second... according to the tooltip. Which has some wording issues. TP already reduces the remaining CD of our brews by 1 second. So does this give it a chance to reduce the CD's by 2? Does it literally lower the CD of the next Brew charge by 1 second (i.e. bringing it down to 15 sec from 16)? I'm not sure. I think either way this is a pretty nice trait. it's a lot like Secret Ingredients except without all the extra pain that reducing the CD of Keg Smash without changing its energy cost does to our priority and energy management.

So this is again a trait that's definitely going to warrant some relics. Potent Kick increases the duration of Ironskin Brew by up to 1.5 seconds (3 with relics). Bumping up ISB's duration to 9 seconds means that you'll EASILY be able to maintain it at 100% uptime. That throws any other charges towards using PB.

So in a way, this kinda helps to solve the issue that some of us in the Brewmaster theorycrafting circle have worried about with PB. Because its cooldown is shared with ISB, there's a very high opportunity cost that goes along with it. If ISB is a very limited resource, then using PB must be more effective than an ISB... which means that PB has to reduce the amount of damage you take more so than ISB, which is very hard to do. I recently made a spreadsheet documenting the general math involved in this if anyone reading wants to check it out. I'm still in the process of iterating on it and refining it, but the core of it is there. But if ISB isn't as scarce, that means you can purify without worrying about the opportunity cost... because there is less of one. As long as you don't purify too much in a short space of time, that is. Ultimately, having an easier time with maintaining our active mitigation is a good thing and Potent Kick does a great job of that.

Smashed is a very interesting trait with some kinda sneaky repercussions with it. It increases the range of our Keg Smash by up to 15 yards (30 with relics), bringing it up to a 30-45 yard range. This is great for us because it means we kinda don't need Dizzying Haze anymore (even though that ability was super fun and I loved it to hell and back)! Keg Smash being effectively a ranged ability gives us something that Brewmasters really didn't have compared to other Legion tanks, and that is a ranged aggro tool. So yeah this trait's pretty damn cool. Combined with Swift as a Coursing River (again, more on that later), I'm confident this resolidifes Brewmasters as the premiere kiting tank in Legion.

Now, the sneaky repercussions part of this comes into play if you ever want to PvP as a Brewamaster. At Honor rank 28 you can get the PvP talent Double Barrel, which increases the damage of KS by 50% and has it stun all targets hit by it for 3 seconds. If you max out this trait with relics, that means you now have a 45 yard range Keg Smash that deals 50% additional damage and is an AoE stun.

Let that sink in for a moment. KS becomes a 45 yard range nuke with an AoE stun.

So yeah Keg Smash becomes an utter monster in PvP. That's not even factoring in SaaCR and the natural 50% slow on KS. You can kite people for days with it. Not only that, but you're effectively able to battle spellcasters at their effective ranges with it. The name Keg Smash will be etched into the hearts of battleground players as something equated with either unparalleled dread or the biggest wellspring of salt in the game.

So expect some iteration. Probably on that PvP talent. The issue I don't think is Smashed. It's really important for kiting. The problem is that you can boost KS into a nuke-stun murder machine in PvP.

As mentioned earlier, Staggering Around is a minor trait which gives Fortifying Brew more stagger. Up to 6% (12% with relics) to be precise. I won't really reiterate too much on this one. it's a pretty nice trait to give Fortifying Brew a bit more oomph. That's a cool thing to have.

Swift as a Coursing River is pretty much a godsend for all of you guys who were worried about Brewmaster kiting and mobility. SaaCR is a minor trait which gives us 10% increased movement speed for 10 seconds whenever we drink a brew, stacking up to 5 times. A decent Brewmaster should be able to maintain this buff throughout an encounter. Again, because I touched upon this earlier in the post, I'm not going to dwell on it too much. But suffice it to say, I like this Mulan reference. This is gunna make us super mobile and I love it.

And here we at last come to the Wanderer's Special. Ironic, because it's the first trait you pick up for Fu Zan. So this is a bit of a mystery. This is our activatable trait, which gives us either flaming breath, fortitude, or elusiveness. With a 75 second CD, this is gunna be used decently often.

But the big question here is... what the heck do those things mean? Each perk has one of three effects: 50% dodge for 6 seconds, 15% increased health for 6 seconds, or a free Breath of Fire. So there's a couple things that a re a bit iffy here. For one, the fact that this has a 33% chance (assuming each has an equal chance to proc) to not actually benefit you defensively makes this a very awkward cooldown for a tank. Doubly so if the mechanic you're trying to deal with can't be avoided, which means this ability only has a 33% chance to benefit you.

RNG is a very complicated subject in tank class design. On one hand, RNG definitely has a place. It's important to being able to ensure the spec feels different and that it's not just purely a numbers game. RNG is also useful to ensure that certain things are less overpowered as well as diversify mechanics. Dodge without RNG is basically just 100% DR, for instance. RNG allows differentiation, which is a good thing for variety's sake. RNG is a design tool that has been in game development for decades. And the reason it has is because it IS a good tool to use.

At the same time though, any tool is only good if used properly. RNG is horrendous when you want something that plays consistently. Things like emergency CD's that rely on RNG are really bad because there's a chance that the ability you popped just... won't work. It's a big problem the community has with Elusive Brew being the only real "active mitigation" ability for Mannoroth. Sure you can survive, but you require other abilities on top of it. RNG screwing you over as a tank is one of the worst feelings in the game, because you have absolutely no control over luck. it's why I think the Legion mastery is so neat, because it tries to auto-correct for bad RNG.

So this ability, which has a varied chance of being useful, is something that I think is worth noting for possible reworking. Obviously, it's too early to definitively say "yeah this needs to change." The varied benefits of the ability are also pretty different in regards to how useful they feel, I think. 50% dodge for 6 seconds is pretty darn good, if you think about how much dodge we can already get. 15% increased health for 6 seconds... is okay? I don't think Brewmastesrs have ever really explicitly gone for health, when we're not really interested in that variety of effective health. We're definitely more about stagger. And then a free Breath of Fire... which honestly is kinda lame, in my opinion. A 33% chance for a free BoF, an ability with a 3 second CD, on a 75 second CD is pretty disappointing. Especially if again, you want to use this more intelligently as an ability that helps you out a bit when you're dealing with some mechanic, or if you want to use this as a minor "oh shit!" button. A 33% chance to just... give you an extra puff of fire just won't feel good, I worry.

A lot of what I just said really does come down to design intent for the ability. Is this something that is intended to be used as a defensive cooldown, or is it something that's just for general use? Will it be necessary as a defensive cooldown? Are tanks going to be incentivized to use this as a defensive ability? Will they try and use it as such regardless of design intent? These are all questions that need to be answered in order to determine whether or not a rework is necessary and I don't have any of them right now.

So all in all, I think that at least mechanically, I'm overall fairly happy with our artifact traits. There's some stuff that needs clarification, some stuff that might need a rework depending on how they function and how they test, but the majority of it is solid. Tuning will be necessary, of course. but I like the direction that Blizzard has gone with our traits and I'm looking forward to trying them all out once I find a way to get into the alpha!

Once again, feel free to respond to me in the comments below or at my twitter. Thanks for reading, friends!