Good evening (or afternoon / morning if you happen to read this after I post it) friends! Today I'm going to be going deep into my thoughts on our artifact's traits. I want to preface this and say that this is NOT going to really be something about balance, and more so about mechanics, play feel, and the degree to which I am excited to get each trait. Do note that the order I put down here is completely arbitrary and in no way is representative of the path that I would recommend to go in order to get the most out of Fu Zan in as little artifact power as possible. So without further ado, let's get started!
Our first trait is the one we get by just getting our staff. The active Exploding Keg was something I was very excited about conceptually. With a short cooldown, it deals about a Keg Smash's worth of damage and stops all auto-attacks for 3 seconds. Now that it's been buffed it's an awesome defensive tool. It's got one of the best animations in the game, to boot. Solid 10/10. Next!
Next one is Full Keg, a 10% damage increase to Keg Smash. You get this pretty much after you acquire Fu Zan itself, so you don't really spend anything to get it. Pretty much everyone gets something like this as their freebie, but this buffs our strongest hitting ability so I'm not going to complain.
After that is Gifted Student, which provides 1% crit (per rank) for 3 seconds when you dodge or heal with an ox orb / Expel Harm. Before the patch which changed it, this was a straight-up buff to Gift of the Ox healing, which to be honest makes it feel much more enticing. I haven't done the math but I'm guessing that the crit might possibly be able to even out the amount of healing across an encounter because it affects nearly every source of healing, and not just your own, but there's something to be said about buffing Gift of the Ox, a key part of our survivability, feeling better than a buff that might be up fairly regularly, but wouldn't really be a noticeable benefit at all unless you were looking at logs of an entire fight. 3% crit on a buff that's not always up just seems so underwhelming and personally doesn't make me feel like I should grab it. And really, while I do think overall heal-ability on an encounter is going to be something to care about as Brewmasters, our job is to deal with burst first, overall mitigation second, and 3% crit (when fully ranked) is just too much RNG to be effective at that first job.
Obstinate Determination is perhaps one of the community's favorite traits. Whenever you are knocked below 35% health you automatically spawn a Gift of the Ox orb. This doesn't have a cooldown. So when you're leveling and you pull a lot, this thing can make you effectively immortal as long as you aren't getting chunked too fast. Of course, this becomes far less true the moment you go into harder content, where it's a very strong tool to help save your ass, but won't guarantee that you don't need a healer. You can definitely get chunked down faster than you can self-heal. It's actually a fairly balanced trait for endgame content, in my experience. It has been a strong life-saver, but it hasn't been a godly "oh hey I don't need heals" tool like it could be. It's more or less like Expel Harm in live, as opposed to Guard in live. One is muuuuuuch more stupidly strong at saving your butt.
Face Palm is both a great name for a trait, and also a great trait in of itself! Each rank gives you a 10% chance for Tiger Palm to deal 300% of its normal damage and reduce the remaining cooldown on your brews by an additional second. This has been theorycrafted to be a very strong way of getting brew charge reductions, so it's definitely a great pick and it feels great. I really like this trait.
Potent Kick increases the duration of Ironskin Brew by 0.5 seconds per rank. While it doesn't seem like it's a lot, it's a pretty strong trait. Each of those 0.5 seconds adds up across an encounter, giving you more uptime while not having to sacrifice on your purifies that are rather necessary to survival, thus increasing the effectiveness of your purifies as well as your spike reduction. It's pretty cool.
Next up is Hot Blooded, which increases the damage of Breath of Fire's damage over time component by 25% per rank as well as reducing damage dealt by enemies affected by 2% per rank. This is by far my favorite trait. The DoT effect will affect pretty much any enemy, because Blizzard gave Keg Smash (and Exploding Keg and Special Delivery, for that matter) the capacity to affect enemies who cannot be slowed, when in previous expansions you didn't have that. This is in my opinion one of, if not the strongest trait we can get. And that's not even counting the fact that it synergizes stupidly well with two of our our legendaries: Sal'Salabim's Lost Tunic and the Firestone Walkers. Hot Blooded makes Breath of Fire go from one of the most useless buttons we have (on live) to arguably one of the most important. And I FREAKING LOVE THAT SO MUCH!!!
Obsidian Fists is a fairly benign trait, providing 3% crit chance to Blackout Strike per rank. I'm... kinda okay with this being the way it is just because not every trait really NEEDS to be the most amazing important thing for us. There's some filler there that just improves overall throughput in some way, and that's okay.
Overflow was one of the strongest traits we had till a recent nerf, where it's now a bit less so. So right now, it's a 5% chance per rank to have an Ox Orb be a Greater Ox Orb, and heal for double. So before, about one in three were a greater orb at max base ranks. Now it's one in six/seven (technically it's one in 6.66 repeating). I'm hesitating to blast these changes because I am extremely aware of anchoring bias and I don't want my feedback to be tainted by that. I still think that this is a strong trait, just that it's less of an urgency as before. And I still like it. It provides a strong benefit to our mitigation. While it's arguably a bit too RNG to be really good for burst reduction, I think it provides enough of a tangible benefit that it's worth picking up relatively early on, rather than saving it for the dregs you don't care about. It might be something to watch for possible buffs, but other traits probably need it more - if at all - I think.
Speaking of Anchoring Bias, Healthy Appetite used to be a pretty desirable trait, providing a heck of a lot of health. It was recently nerfed as well, down to 1% additional max health per rank. Again, it comes down to balance, whether this is a good thing or not. I can confidently say that so far it hasn't really been game-breaking for me, but that's because I haven't gotten it yet! It didn't feel necessary to get, at least for Heroics, at the very least. Again, something to look to for potential buffs, I feel. It's another one of those "we just need something to fill out the artifact" traits. Basic throughput, and all that. Overall, I'm not too fussed either way.
The first Mulan reference, Dark Side of the Moon reduces the damage you will take from the next auto-attack by 2% per rank. With a 3 second cooldown, that will actually add up quite a bit in defensive value. While this isn't as big a priority compared to other defensive traits, I think this is in a good spot. It's a solid trait for overall throughput defense that I think will be noticeable when it comes to how much stagger you rack up.
The OTHER Mulan reference, Swift as a Coursing River gives a stacking movement speed increase (up to 30% at 5 stacks) every time you use a brew, lasting 15 seconds. We use one brew roughly 8 seconds with Heroic dungeon gear, so this is DEFINITELY going to be up at all times. People were worried about Demon Hunters taking over our role as the speediest motherfuckers in the tanking role, and I can firmly say "NAH MATE" to that with this trait. On top of Roll, the potential for Tiger's Lust, we now have a 30% speed increase that will just be there all the time (once you've spent the 40 seconds or so to get it up via your normal play). Yeah. I am not worried. While I don't rank this high on the priority of what traits to get because I'm old-fashioned and super defensive-oriented, I really love this trait for the utility it brings us.
Smashed is a single-rank trait which boosts Keg Smash's range by 10 yards. This makes it a 25 yard range spell, which is a solid enough distance for it to be a great pulling and kiting tool. I very much like this trait for what it does.
Staggering Around is the last of our regular traits and it increases the amount of stagger given to you via Fortifying Brew by 2% per rank. I think the only problem I have with this trait, honestly, is that it affects a tool with a 5 minute cooldown. And not just that, but arguably one of the strongest defensive tools in the game. With all the attention Fortifying Brew is getting from our talents and legendaries, I just don't feel like artifact traits are really worth it, I guess? It feels unnecessary. I'd rather see something that affected my regular play, rather than something I will only see one to three times an encounter that is already doing enough to ensure my safety.
The first of our three golden traits is Dragonfire Brew, which when you cast Breath of Fire procs two additional breaths. Now, I can confidently say that this is not anchoring bias talking when I say that I vastly preferred the older design, which was a pulsing AoE which created a stacking damage dealt debuff to enemies affected, which was basically taken and made into the new Hot Blooded. This trait doesn't refresh the Breath of Fire debuff, thus doesn't provide any defensive benefits via Hot Blooded, and currently with 3/3 Hot Blooded, each breath is only slightly more damaging than a single DoT tick; 19k vs 14k, in my current gear. To be honest I feel like the golden traits for Brewmaster are probably the artifact's weakest points, and Dragonfire Brew especially just feels rather disappointing. It would potentially be worth it if its damage was considerably higher and it actually at least reset the duration of Breath of Fire's debuff, thus giving more uptime to Hot Blooded, but right now I'm just having a hard time trying to find anything of value in it. Which I hate so much because I think the idea of making Breath of Fire more prominent in our priority and kit is such a great thing to do. It's such an iconic ability for Brewmasters across the entirety of Warcraft's lifespan. Heck, it's even representing Brewmasters as part of Chen "MFing" Stormstout's kit in Heroes of the Storm (yes I know it was his ability in Warcraft 3, shhhh!~). I just wish it was in a better way than this.
The second is Fortification, which gives us 25% dodge for 21 seconds when using Fortifying Brew. While this is super strong, I feel suffers from the same problem that Smashed has. Because it affects a 5 minute cooldown (before CDR from legendaries / talents) it's just not going to be seen that much. And because it's affecting one of the strongest abilities in the game, it doesn't feel like it will really be all that useful, as when under the effects of Fortifying Brew you're not likely to die and after it drops off, you're not likely to be in danger again during the remaining time this buff would be active. Again I feel like our traits - especially a golden trait - would do better to affect our moment-to-moment play, which is where the real fun and significance lies when gaming.
Our last golden trait is another well-named trait: Brew-Stache. This gives 10% dodge for 1.5 seconds whenever you use Ironskin or Purifying Brew. The community has a lot of criticisms for this trait being rather passive but I don't mind it too much. It's got a short uptime that maybe could be a touch higher but it synergizes fairly well with our active mitigation and our mastery, which becomes much more efficient per point with that increased chance to dodge. If anything, I feel like I dislike it because it's perceived as a relatively benign trait, but it's still the best golden trait we have right now, in my opinion. I was talking with a warrior theorycrafter friend of mine and how he and the rest of his community were thinking of doing in regards to artifact trait paths and he pretty much said that it was a race to the big golden traits. Talking with others in the Brewmaster community, it's rather a stark contrast because we're largely thinking of doing the opposite. Most of our golden traits are some of the last picks for us, because we have quite a few amazing regular traits that just seem much more impactful. I don't think the solution is to just rearrange those and make some of those regular traits into goldens or to nerf them to make the goldens better. I think the goldens are really what need to be looked at, if we're still in a stage where that can feasibly happen. I don't know. If this version of Fu Zan were to be pushed to live, I think I would still be pretty happy with it, but I wish it was better and I think that could still feasibly happen.
A great way to possibly approach that is to focus a bit more onto Keg Smash. It's an iconic ability which while it does have a handful of traits which affect it, doesn't have anything insaaanely game-changing with it. You could argue the range is, but I digress. You could give it a small stagger buff, something like 5%, Or maybe a chance for your next Purifying Brew (or maybe even Ironskin Brew) to be a free cast. You could take these ideas and throw them onto any of our active abilities, to be honest. Or something completely different. An issue with going for Keg Smash is that it's already super important. It could potentially be more punishing if someone wasn't great at hitting it on cooldown. I don't really want to be an Armchair Developer. I know all too well how annoying that is. My ideas are just that. I'm just hopeful that we'll see some changes.
So overall... I'm fairly happy with our artifact traits. We get some really cool tools and toys to mess around with in Legion as well as some great throughput. While I think there are traits that can be improved, I am still greatly looking forward to my Wandering Companion in Legion. Thanks for reading! If you'd like to discuss this post, please head on over to the thread on Chi Burst! See you next time!
~ The Brewing Scribe