With 8.2 coming in the next few weeks, and before I sit down to get any changes figured out, I wanted to write my thoughts on the spec in the past present and future.
I feel that Windwalkers have moved in a good direction this expansion. There have been lots of positive changes for Windwalker, the biggest being the addition of the cooldown mechanic to Blackout Kick. This has helped give Windwalkers some sustained spell-to-spell interaction that I’ll talk about later.
This is corroborated by my recent Peak Summer Survey, which has shown, thus far, that Windwalkers are slightly more satisfied with Windwalker now than they were in December (an average of 7.58 out of 10 in June, up from 7.11 in December). This is mirrored by the raiding population going from 3.7% of all DPS parses in September 2018, down to 2.84% in March 2019, and up to 3.45% now. Obviously, no one expects the population to be as high as it was in Antorus, 6.07% of all DPS parses, which was by far the strongest Windwalker has ever been. However, I don’t think the population being half the % that it was a year ago is something that can be taken lightly.
When looking at just class-by-class, Monk has been the lowest DPS class represented with two exceptions; Priests were less represented from Antorus till 8.1 and Shaman were less represented during Antorus. Obviously, Monk having one DPS spec can’t be fairly compared to classes that have more than one. So the comparables are Priest, Paladin, and Demon Hunter. Since their inception, Demon Hunters have ruled this group of DPS; being, at the lowest 7.93% of all parses in the latter half of Nighthold, and at the highest, 11.21% during 8.1 BoD. DH has averaged 9.4% representation since it was introduced. Paladins have seen a swing from a low of 4.6% in Siege to 8.09% in the Pre-BfA Patch Antorus, with an average of 6.41% since Mists. Priests are the next on the totem pole, with an average of 5.17% since Mists, a low of 3.33% in Pre-BfA Patch Antorus, to a high of 7.32% currently. Finally, Monks have seen a high of 6.07% in early Antorus to a low of 1.67% in HFC, with an average of 2.77%. This means that DH has never seen representation as low as Windwalker’s highest, Paladin has only seen it once since Warlords started, and Priests about half the time. Before Antorus, Windwalker’s highest representation was lower than any other class’s lowest record.
But Babs… why does this matter?
Well I’ll tell you, conveniently-pertinent-question-asking-fictional-voice; because its important to look at these trends to figure out how to improve Windwalker in the future so that more people are willing to try it and more people stick around playing it.
Why they ignore it
Windwalker’s greatest enemy has almost always been community perception. Outside of Antorus, the biggest complaint we hear about Windwalker is that other specs do the same stuff, and many do it better. Windwalkers are fast and agile, then DH came along and were faster and more agile. The mantra has long been “why play a Windwalker when you can play a DH”, and this makes perfect sense. For the majority of their time in the game together, DH has done more damage, often significantly, with a simpler rotation, often significantly. Even some of the things like Fists of Fury losing damage if your primary target died is something that DH had with Eye Beam for months prior.
Another big reason, and maybe the biggest, that Windwalker gets ignored, and somewhat Monks as a whole, is that they are the only one of the three new classes added to the game that starts at level 1. DKs started at 55 and in Wrath you couldnt shake a dead ghoul without hitting a dozen DKs. Every PvP team had one, every leveling and dungeon group probably had two or more. When DH was introduced, they started at 98, and we saw that by the start of EN they were more than 8% represented and by the start of NH were almost 10%.
Thirdly, a big reason is that Windwalker is complex. Until the end of Warlords it was almost certainly the least new-player friendly spec in the game: the abilities weren’t intuitive, there were hidden buffs and debuffs to track, Storm Earth and Fire was a huge DPS increase, but lost you damage on single target, Tigereye Brew had stacks, and more. When I look around at other guides and sites for ideas for how to improve Peak, I am astounded by the simplicity of many of their priorities. Windwalkers have a 12 step priority that doesn’t even cover big cooldowns outside of Touch of Death, compared to Markmanship’s 9 step priority that includes big cooldowns and two spells falling two different places, Frost Mage’s 5 step priority, Fury’s 7 step priority, just to name a few.
You toss in other things like little to no useful “utility”, the ridiculous frequency of changes, whether its a new Mastery every raid in Mists or 7 major changes in 55 days at the start of BfA, the amazing speed that things are changed if they benefit Windwalkers (Swift Roundhouse, WDP Cancelaura, Grong), and the extraordinary speed that they aren’t addressed when they hurt Windwalkers.
Why they try it
Its clear why people pick up specs, because they are strong and they see the colored bars show them something is toward the top. Its why the Windwalker representation almost tripled in 6 months at the start of Antorus; Antorus was almost tailor made for Windwalkers, and we received SIGNIFICANT buffs going into it that, coupled with excellent synergy from tier and legendaries, skyrocketed Windwalkers to places unknown for the spec. For Windwalker, it had to get to a point where the damage was to ridiculously strong that people could no longer ignore it.
People also play it because they hear that its fun, or unique, or that you will lose 10 lbs by playing it, but all that comes from positive perspective and reputation, something that Windwalkers have sorely lacked, as I said above.
Why they stick around
Here’s the tough part, as based on the data, they certainly didn’t stick around after Antorus. However, we’ve seen less attrition in the last few months largely due to some bug fixes and an increase in the “speed” of the spec. One of the biggest complaints we heard on Discord was about the “slowness” or “clunkiness” of the spec. What they generally mean is downtime.
Windwalker has consistently been on the higher end of the downtime spectrum. Its why I, personally, love Windwalker; give me time to plan my next three moves out, don’t punish me as much for doing a special job or mechanic. However, its very different from the Always Be Casting spammy mentality of many other specs, so its very off-putting for someone to switch to: suddenly have all this time they’re not casting anything, and be told that it is OK.
Recently, with the advent of many of our Azerite traits giving us resources or a proc, the speed of Windwalker has picked up significantly. This has led to an overall increase in satisfaction in most of the community. However, it has also disgruntled many seasoned players, myself included, because the randomness of that speed seems to go against the very theme of Windwalker. So while here has been a slight improvement in overall satisfaction and some more player retention the past few months, I feel like it’s come at the cost of the identity of the spec.
Like I said, Windwalkers have gone through quite a lot of rather large changes, like in Legion where tier bonuses and encounters facilitated drastic changes in play style and talent choices with every new raid. Which makes it difficult to point to a point or few points where Windwalker was in its best place, but I’ll try.
From my experience there were three times that I felt that Windwalkers were the best designed, and we can take some aspects of those moments to try and improve the spec now: Hellfire Citadel, Tomb of Sargeras, and Antorus, the Burning Throne, with an honorable mention for Throne of Thunder.
So this one may not be one that jumps out to many people, as back then many of the inner workings of Windwalker weren’t widely known. Hell, it took us like two years to realize that Storm, Earth, and Fire clones had their own set of Rising Sun Kick debuffs and Tiger Palm buffs. However, back in HFC Windwalkers had quite a lot of talent flexibility and differing play styles. This is also the time that we first saw some of the spec mechanics that are now core aspects of our toolkit.
The trinket, Soul Capacitor, gave us what would become Gale Burst, and later just a secondary affect of Touch of Death. The trinket Sacred Draenic Incense (this) combined with the t18 tier bonus (Rising Sun Kick could proc Combo Breaker, Combo Breaker could proc another Rising Sun Kick) gave us our first real taste of spell-to-spell interactions.
What many people may remember is Chi Explosion, which, when combined with Serenity, gave us some actual talent diversity. Both could be used in single target or AOE, with Chi Explosion being sneaky good for all content, but it took us the likes of Rait to show how crazy it could actually be. We saw more diversity with Chi Wave being used for single target and Chi Burst being used for multi-target. We also had the incarnations of Power Strikes, Ascension, and Chi Brew giving us flexibility based on what you prefer, without one being definitely better than the others. Chi Explosion also gave us a talent and ability that functioned differently based on how much Chi you used, which gave us some agency over how our damage was done.
Now, most of this gets forgotten, but it was also one of the strongest tiers for Windwalker, until the legendary rings became the only thing that mattered for DPS. During progression, Windwalker was, arguably, the strongest all-around melee, able to adapt quickly to a different fight and perform very well. The insane length of HFC before Legion came out also allowed us to get up to some shenanigans, like lighting ourselves on fire (link) in order to start a fight with a full Touch of Karma.
EDIT: Another thing worth mentioning, as I was reminded by Tradu, is the use of Chi Torpedo as a DPS ability. It could certainly be argued that this led to much of what the Demon Hunters had in their kit with movement-based damage abilities. I personally despised this manner of playstyle, but I know a lot of people greatly enjoyed it, which is probably why I never rolled a Demon Hunter, but many of the top Windwalkers at the time switched.
HFC wasn’t all perfect. We were still dealing with a TEB-based Mastery that made Mastery a stat to actively avoid at nearly all costs. TEB was also very unintuitive, with stacks that went to 20, but capped their usefulness at 10, yet really you didn’t want to worry about the stacks as long as you didn’t overcap. And while many disagree, Storm, Earth, and Fire was absolutely horrible for new players. It was a HUGE dps increase with multiple targets, but a HUGE decrease in single target. The clones needed their own Rising Sun Kick debuff and Tiger Palm buff in order to be at maximum power. Toss in just about all the bugs and annoyances that we are still currently dealing with and you got a recipe for a big PITA.
However, for the reasons listed above, I believe that HFC was one tier that Windwalkers were an overall design success.
Tomb of Sargeras
This is another set of situations that may have gone unnoticed by many, but for most of Tomb I think Windwalker was just about perfect. The vast majority of this was because of the tier; Xuen’s Battlegear. Not only was this my favorite looking tier we’ve had, visually, but the set bonuses gave Windwalker the definition of “flow”. Although it was originally the 4p bonus and increased Crit chance by 50% and then 65%, the two piece bonus, powered up your following Rising Sun Kicks. The 4-piece bonus (originally the 2p bonus and reduced the cooldown of Fists of Fury by 2, and then 3 seconds, got us to our hardest hitting ability faster. The spirit of these bonuses eventually became the added affect on Blackout Kick. The fact that Fists of Fury benefited Rising Sun Kick and Rising Sun Kick benefited Fists of Fury was the kind of flow and spell-to-spell interactions that should be considered the pinnacle of Windwalker design. When we added in the t19 2p (which was 2 seconds) and made the “6 piece bonus”, as it was called, it allowed us to take the enjoyable interactions of the t20 bonuses and get them a little bit more often. Toss in Serenity and, during its duration, we had a fabulous flow from one tier-bonus-buffed ability into another.
Obviously, Blizzard wasn’t a huge fan of us using a tier bonus from a previous raid, and thus switched them around and nerfed them multiple times, leading to the lowest low point in the history of Windwalkers, comparable only to Highmaul/Blackrock Foundry after the HUGE nerfs, the only time I admit that Windwalker wasn’t “viable”, which then, in turn, led to the highest high point in the history of Windwalkers, which I’ll talk about next. The most important take away from this moment in Windwalker history was that playing a spec where the abilities heavily influenced one another, specially when combined with their cooldowns and our Mastery, promoted a gameplay that was truly, truly, enjoyable.
Antorus, the Burning Throne
When many people talk about the “best” Windwalker has ever been, they nearly always point to this moment in time. I can all but guarantee that they’re seeing this through the rose-colored glasses of how incredibly strong Windwalker was. However, another reason that many people have reported that they loved Windwalker in Antorus is the “speed” of the spec. As I said above, when talking about the “speed”, what they generally mean downtime, and in Antorus, there was absolutely very little downtime. This came as a result of legendaries; The Wind Blows and the Emperor’s Capacitor and the 2pc tier bonus (another one that they switched from 2p to 4p).
However, another hiccup is how someone defines “downtime”. There are, from my reckoning, if “active time” is when you’re actively doing something then there are three ways to define “downtime”:
- Your character is doing literally nothing. This happens with casters if they’re not casting.
- Your character is doing something, but its not something you can control. This happens with Windwalkers are between abilities and just just auto-attacking.
- You’re not doing anything, but your character is doing something as a result of your actions. This happens when your Windwalker is casting an ability like Fists of Fury.
As I said, the first type of “downtime”, doesn’t really happen for Windwalkers, since we’re always doing something as long as we’re within melee range. The distinction between the second and third definitions is where most of the discussion lies, as how which definition you ascribe to affects your opinion of Windwalker. If you consider downtime only when you’re character is standing there and auto-attacking, then any time spent casting Fists of Fury, or like in Antorus, Crackling Jade Lightning, is NOT downtime. This definition focuses on time that your character is actively doing something. The third definition focuses on when you’re actively doing something, so time spent channeling Crackling Jade Lightning or Fists of Fury would count as downtime.
From my experience, it seems like most people ascribe to the second definition, which is why many point to “speed” or “lack of downtime” as the reason they liked Antorus. Windwalker in Antorus was, effectively, “GCD locked”. This means that we were able to be doing something “active” with every single second of the fight, casting our instant abilities, or channeling Crackling Jade Lightning and Fists of Fury, filled every moment we had. Going into BfA, because we stopped using Emperor’s Capacitor, that was 3-4 seconds of “active” downtime that became “inactive” downtime. Interestingly enough, if you look at the third definition, with the changes in BfA, you were actually pressing more buttons than in Antorus, but with less of it being channeling Crackling Jade Lightning, which seems to be the problem.
Its not that people need to feel like they’re pressing a button every second, but they want to feel like their character is doing something that they directed as often as possible. This is what led people to say that Antorus was their favorite iteration of Windwalker
Honorable Mention: Throne of Thunder
If you’re familiar with Windwalker during Throne of Thunder, then you’ll immediately know exactly why I brought up this moment in time as one of Windwalker’s best: Rune of Reorigination. This trinket changed lives. This trinket was the coming out party for Windwalker as a spec. Before “RoRO” people barely knew Windwalker’s existed, but what we could do with it… oooo boy.
Basically how it worked was the Rune of Reorigination would take all your stats and funnel them into one stat, picking the one that was the highest. Another important bit of information was that, at this time, Windwalker was on its second Mastery. This Mastery increased the damage we gained per stack of TEB; so if you had enough mastery that you’d get 5% damage per TEB stack, then when you hit it at 10 stacks, you’d gain 50% damage for its duration. However, the damage increase of TEB “snapshotted” when you pressed it, so if you had a Mastery buff that increased it to 6% per stack, then you’d gain 60% damage. This is SUPER important because once you killed Lei-Shen and the loot gods smiled down upon you and gave you a Rune of Reorigination, since we had Reforging, you could insure that your Mastery was always a smidge above any other stat, so that when Rune of Reorigination procced, all of our stats would be funneled into Mastery, giving you 3x the amount of Mastery that you’d normally have. Then, when you’d hit TEB, instead of it giving 5% damage per stack, it would give closer to 15%, so that you’d do an additional 150% damage during its duration.
This was such a big moment in Windwalker history, that I still have my Heroic Thunderforged Rune of Reorigination in my bank and would give away all the other gear I’ve saved in order to keep it. At the time, with a full HTF best-in-slot gearset, which I just about had, your secondary stat budget was around 29,000. This means that you would reforge to get to about 9,667 Mastery, and 9,666 Crit and Haste. Then, you’d wait for Rune of Reorigination to proc, do almost no damage during its duration, then pop TEB at the last second. This would give you the following 14 seconds of TEB with your full Crit and Haste stats to buff the abilities you used. All those stats funneled into Mastery would all your TEB to give about 38% damage per stack, so for the next 14 seconds, once TEB was activated and Rune of Reorigination ended, you’d be dealing 380% more damage than you normally would and you would BEND THUNDER GODS TO YOUR WILL!!!!
This affect was so incredibly powerful that Blizzard, not only, changed our Mastery so that it would give us a chance to generate another stack of TEB, but they pretty much just flat-out broke Rune of Reorigination, opting to just about straight stop it from working for Windwalkers rather than try to iterate and nerf it to a reasonable level of power.
However, the reason that I think this was a seminal point in Windwalker history is not how OMGWTFBBQ overpowered it was, but because, for the first time, all secondary stats had a benefit. You wanted to get as much of them as possible, but you wanted to make sure your Mastery was a smidge higher so that Rune of Reorigination procced Mastery. You didn’t want to just dump everything into Mastery anyway, or else you’d do less damage after you used TEB.
The reason that I left this as an “honorable mention” was that currently, and really the first time since Throne of Thunder, all of our stats are useful. They all ebb and flow in which is on top depending on how much you have of the others. They’re so balanced that everyone’s stat weights are different and change with every change in stats. We don’t have any stats that we’re actively avoiding, nor any that we’re mindlessly stacking. People run into scenarios where they want to gem and enchant for Haste if they have very little of it. Sure, there’s still a “priority” of which stat is most likely to be strong, but we don’t have to look at a piece of gear and thing “yuck! its got Haste or Mastery” like we have in the past at various times. This is important for a class, as you don’t want to be disappointed when something drops that should be an upgrade for you because it has X stat.
So, now that I’ve plowed through the past and the present, let’s move on to the future.
Obviously, the upcoming patch is on everyone’s mind. Since I’m mostly happy with Windwalkers now, there’s no reason not to be happy about Windwalkers in 8.2. I’m personally not a huge fan of how much of our resources and “speed” are coming from random procs. If there was anything I’d change, it would be that.
The essences aren’t overly exciting, and while I like the idea of Conflict and Strife giving Reverse Harm, and love the fact that it gives us a pretty sizable heal to help keep ourselves or our allies up, I don’t like the fact that it, again, promotes a play style where we rely on someone taking damage in order for us to deal more damage. It’s Touch of Karma/Good Karma all over again but on a smaller, more frequent, scale. Vision of Perfection is another essence that can be very cool, but also very frustrating depending on when it procs.
I’m not super familiar with the upcoming raid fights yet, so I can’t say if they’ll compliment Windwalker’s toolkit, but it certainly can’t get less flattering for melee.
I’ve come to the understanding, and I did quickly, that the way that I prefer Windwalker to play, isn’t the way that the majority of players prefer. I love downtime; I love time where my character is doing something on his own, or not needing me to do something. I like being able to glance over and look at Twitch chat, change the song that’s playing, take a sip of water, or speak to my wife and daughter. My preference for that is probably part of why I’ve been struggling so mightily with Windwalker. However, I understand that I’m in the minority.
My position at the head of the community gives me some perspective for what the majority of players want, and my experience with the spec and theorycrafting helps me to know how feasible what they want is. I picked the time periods above because for Windwalker to be “perfect”, I feel there are lessons to be learned from those time periods:
- Spell-to-spell interactions – Like I mentioned above, in Hellfire Citadel and Tomb of Sargeras we had some interactions between our abilities. When Legion started we got Whirling Dragon Punch, which has been met with positive response, when its working correctly and not somehow still unavailable for use when both RSK and FoF are on cooldown. However, Whirling Dragon Punch is a talent that, at least through Legion, we switched away from every other tier. Since it fits the spec so well, thematically, it would be nice to see this as a core part of the spec rather than talent. Direct inspiration can be taken from Tomb of Sargeras by adding small interactions between other abilities. Since Windwalkers want to not press the same ability back-to-back, its nice to have them feel like they flow from one into the other. EDIT: It was pointed out that Frost Mages have combo-type flow to their abilities, with things like Shatter, Winter’s Chill, and Brain Freeze, which is something that Windwalkers could use some inspiration from.
- “Active” downtime – Antorus teased us with a combination of downtime that wasn’t really downtime. We had a few seconds to collect our thoughts and take a breath, but our character was doing things active that we caused. This seems to be the middle ground that people want between the near constant downtime that I’d like and the non-stop button spam that some specs have. People don’t like feeling like they can’t do anything
- All stats matter – Right now, all stats matter to a certain extent, this makes it much more enjoyable to get gear since there’s less of a chance of it being useless to you. While I’d like to see more of our abilities affected by more stats, the last time Windwalker didn’t have a stat that we avoided was Throne of Thunder, so I’ll take what I can get.
- Talent diversity – Windwalkers have, only a few times, had real choices with our talents. Talent choices have just about always been either a singular choice changing every now and again. This is something that many specs have gone with, and ultimately its a problem created by the users who, generally, adhere to using what is “best” regardless of the margin for how much better it is. What we’d like to see is some diversity in when we choose talents. We have some of that: the lv15 talents provide such a small damage boost that it really doesn’t matter a huge amount on single target, but the Chi generation aspect of Chi Burst makes it the only choice really used. Now that so much of our extra resources comes from our Azerite Traits, the difference between the lv45 talents is becoming more and more minor. Both the lv15 and 45 talents could really be up to personal choice, but these are incidental, as a result from other things going on, not on any merit of their own. Having talent diversity because those talents provide so little isn’t a great way to have “choice”. There have been moments in Windwalker’s history where different talents were chosen at different times, and you noticed the difference.
- Talent flexibility – I know this may go directly in the face of the diversity I just talked about, but we’ve seen talents like Serenity and Chi Explosion that are used slightly different depending on the circumstances. Serenity has had completely different cast sequences based on how many targets you have. Chi Explosion could be used at different Chi levels to do different things; just single target? 3-Chi Explosion. AOE? 4-Chi Explosion. And both of these talents can be used different every time you use them, you can adapt them inside a fight for what is needed. Talents like Whirling Dragon Punch are used the same way every single time, regardless of how the fight goes. Having something like Serenity be best for short burst and Chi Explosion be best for sustain, and both being adaptable for single target or AOE, promotes heavy tinkering and innovation, as well as let’s less min/max players pick one they want and not feel completely gimped in some situations. I advocate for my “Chi-mehameha Wave” or “Chi-rit Bomb”, ideas that let us channel (even when moving) different amount of Chi costs and extra perks based on power up time, basically Chi Explosion with a little more control over how much you spend each time and let’s me feel like I’m Pandaren Gohan (yes, I picked Gohan. His personality and demeanor toward conflict fit the Pandaren and Monk style more than his father) Bonus points if I can be a Hozen and really live the Saiyan life.
- Spec identity and uniqueness – Monks have always been a very unique class, from how Brewmasters deal with damage, to Mistweaver being a melee healer, but Windwalkers lost much of their identity and what made them unique. Windwalkers used to be the “super mobile” melee, then Demon Hunters came around. We used to be the “crazy AOE potential” spec, then Mark of the Crane was capped and nerfed. Windwalkers “identity” seems to change quite frequently, and change is good, but it makes it difficult for the community to really point to something and say “yeah, thats what Windwalkers do” over any sustained period of time. Mystic Touch brought identity to Monks, but Windwalkers got swallowed up by our low population and the much higher performance of Brewmasters and Mistweavers for their roles.
Lastly, I feel that something needs to be done, over a sustained period of time, to help the community opinion of Windwalker as well as it’s population. The population is too small and too prone to change. While I love the Windwalker community, and the Monk community as a whole, the Windwalker population is one bad tier away from all but completely vanishing. There’s not a lot of Windwalker veterans left anymore, and they’re not being replaced by new players as quickly as they’re leaving the game or for other classes. I outlined, above, why new players largely overlook Windwalker, and most are not problems with easy or simple solutions, but they are problems that could use to be solved if Windwalker is to become a consistent part of the landscape like other classes are. Windwalkers have spent one tier not being the lowest represented class, and outside Antorus, have never had representation as high as any other classes lowest point; and I think that’s something that needs to change.
I love this spec, I love this class, and I love the community, but I worry that without some changes, Windwalkers will always be the forgotten spec.
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