So, before I get started, I feel like I need to issue a slight apology, but not a big one. “Scaling” has become a big concern for people and bounced around the community like the Chicken Little topic it is; and I am largely to blame with that. I have been very outspoken about the problems with Windwalkers and scaling, and that has propagated itself in peoples opinions, and then people’s opinions based on those people’s opinions, and so on, until someone comes into discord and shouts, “iS wInDwAlKeR gOiNg To NeVeR dO gOoD dAmAgE bEcAuSe ItS sCaLiNg SuXs?” without having any idea what most of those words mean or what they would do with the answer when they got it. I am certainly not the only one who has done so, but I didn’t expect it to become so widespread and misunderstood. Hopefully this article will change that.
What is “Scaling”?
As many may have noticed, Windwalkers are pretty strong in Shadowlands. A combination of strong legendary and covenant combinations, and a raid that has several fights that seem perfectly tailored for that combination and Windwalkers, has led Windwalker to be toward the top of the charts in pretty much everywhere you look. However, one side-effect of this is that people are constantly in fear that the spec will be nerfed. Like someone living in an abusive relationship, the good times are hard to enjoy because you feel that you’re waiting for the next bad time to come, living in anxiety waiting for the sky to fall.
The biggest boogeyman that many people bring up is the concept of “scaling”. Its a concept that has been talked about a lot on this website and one that I’ve personally gone to bat with to argue for changes to Windwalkers over the years. Although they’re from 2017, these articles are great ones on the topic for more information from a variety of points of view:
- Windwalker Scaling by Babylonius – July 2017
- Windwalker and Scaling: Looking back at Nighthold by Talby – April 2017
- Windwalker and scaling: a comparison with demon hunters by Pandanaconda – April 2017
When people talk about “scaling” what they mean is how much damage one gains from increasing your gear. As you go through the tiers of gear, increasing your item level, the total amount of stats you have access to increases as well, so one spec that gets more value out of that increase will “scale” better than one that doesn’t. This can come out in a variety of ways:
Some specs simply do more with the same amount of stats as others. A spec that “scales” better from a stat simply gains more damage from that that than others. Its part of the reason why most specs have different stat priorities; the problem lies in the distance between those stats. Blizzard had stated several times that Versatility should be the baseline for specs since its one that, nearly universally, increases damage in a predictable way; 1% Vers = 1% more damage. For some specs, they have stats that have non-linear scaling, or scaling thats simply higher than 1% = 1%. These increased scaling generally come with things like resource feedbacks, increases proc chance, or looping functions.
For example; **and I’m making this up purely as a potential example, I don’t know if its true** if Fury Warriors spend Rage to cast abilities, and any Crit gives them Rage back, then they use that Rage to cast more abilities and thus get more Crits, creating a feedback loop that makes the benefit from Crit stronger than it would be otherwise. Interactions like this allow specs to scale much harder with certain stats. While not every spec has such interactions, the ones that do tend to be the ones that you see gain the most strength as people get more gear.
Why its a problem
Back in 2017, I made this spreadsheet to calculate the amount of damage that different specs gained from different stats, in order to illustrate why this was a problem. It came with this picture:
What you can see is that in 2017, for every 475 stats gained, Affliction Warlocks gained an average of 1.34% damage, whereas Windalkers gained merely 0.91%. I don’t know enough about other specs at the time to know why it was the case, but simply put, Affliction Warlocks got more out of the gear than Windwalkers did.
In Legion, Windwalker’s stat scaling got better, with Versatility scaling being added to Touch of Karma and Touch of Death, putting Windwalkers with most other specs at 100% scaling from Versatility. This meant that if your Versatility went up 1%, you would gain 1% more damage. However, since Touch of Karma and Touch of Death cannot Crit, it prevents our Crit scaling from ever getting to 100%. Our Mastery only affects active abilities, not AutoAttacks, Touch of Karma, or Touch of Death, or damage from trinkets or external sources. While this is consistent with most other specs in the game, it plays a part in why Mastery is often the strongest stat to start the expansion but falls off slightly as we’re able to get more. Lastly, Haste doesn’t affect every ability either, as some of them don’t have their cooldowns reduced by Haste.
Another thing that contributes to scaling, and has historically, hurt Windwalker, is the effect that Borrowed Power mechanics like Azerite, Essences, Corruption, and the like, have on Windwalkers compared to other specs. The easiest example of this is the comparison in Corruption choice between Windwalkers and Demon Hunters in Ny’alotha. Demon Hunters got extra haste in huge chunks from Furious Gaze, which dramatically increased the proc chance of the proc-based corruptions like Infinite Stars and Twilight Devastation. While it was still technically RNG, they were able to get it with a lot more regularity than other specs at the time due to large haste numbers. Windwalker, on the other hand, generally doesn’t look for much in the ways of haste, so the gain by going Infinite Stars and Twilight Devastation were small enough that most people just elected to stack Versatile.
A similar situation happens with other mechanics like Azerite Essences. Because Windwalker doesn’t get as much use out of haste, we don’t stack it, so the proc-based Essences weren’t as strong for us as they were for others. Similarly, because we don’t stack any one stat very hard, but look for a balance, it lessened our ability to utilize the essences that benefit from one stat over the others.
Finally, and maybe most consistently, Windwalker has long not gotten as much benefit from many trinkets as others. Because Windwalkers value Mastery so highly, and Mastery does not affect trinket damage, it leaves a large chunk of our stat budget not affecting a portion of our damage. Contrast that with a class that doesn’t care about Mastery, and they’ll inherently have more value out of trinkets from having more Vers, Crit, and/or Haste.
A big part of the reason that Windwalker has long had trouble with scaling is that its, historically, started expansions or tiers in the middle of the pack or lower. This means that as the pack gets gear, a spec like Windwalker that doesn’t gain as much from the gear as others, will slowly fall down. The easiest way to explain it is if Spec A does 1000 dps, and Spec B does 1100 dps at the start of a tier and the both scale the same, gaining 20% damage over the course of a tier, Spec A will end the tier at 1200dps whereas Spec B will end at 1320 dps. Now take that and repeat it over 4 tiers in an expansion, gaining 20% each tier: Spec A ends the expansion at 2073.6 dps and Spec B ends at 2281 dps. This means that what started as a 100 dps difference is now a 207 dps difference. If Spec B were to gain 25% every tier then the gap grows to 612 dps.
Flip that around, and see Spec A start at 1100 dps but scales 20% per tier and Spec B starts at 1000 dps but scales 25% per tier and you end with Spec A at 2281 dps and Spec B at 2441 dps, for a gap of 160 dps. This shows that even though one scaled 25% better than the other, because Spec A started out better, Spec B wasn’t able to widen the gap as well. This is why how much a spec does before scaling is so incredibly important; it can’t fix scaling, but it is the foundation that scaling can build, or crumble, upon.
So without touching on every single kind of scaling and how it compares between different specs, the easiest thing, and the thing that most people care about, is what the results are. And for that, its as simple as going to WarcraftLogs and looking at some charts. I’ll purposefully grab the most disparate comparisons to illustrate the points made above. This chart is looking at the damage over the entire “Post-Nerf II” tier in Nyalotha. :
The Blue line is Fire Mage, the Brown line is Arms Warrior and the Green line is Windwalker.
- Fire Mages started at 102,195.61 dps and ended at 127,018.65 dps. This is an increase of 24,823.04 dps or 24.3% more than they started with.
- Arms Warriors started at 99,412.32 dps and ended at 116,121.87 dps. This is an increase of 16,709.55 dps or 16.8% more than they started with.
- Windwalker Monks started at 84,632.16 dps and ended at 89,805.84 dps. This is an increase of 5,173.68 dps or 6.1% more than they started with.
Now, there’s a dozen reasons why these numbers are the way that they are. The biggest reasons is that this was the most exaggerated example of scaling problems for as long as I’ve been taking and looking at the data, and I’ve been doing that since the middle of Warlords of Draenor. Clearly one spec gaining almost 5x the damage of another is a problem, which is why its not one that we’ve seen before, and certainly not in such a short time frame.
This is why you’re all here, to know whether or not Windwalkers will be doomed to fall down the charts slowly as we watch our grip on the meters slowly slip away?
The short answer is, “Yes”. There was not a dramatic change going into Shadowlands that would convince me that Windwalkers will suddenly start scaling super well.
Windwalkers gained some ground with some of the changes. Touch of Death being a comparatively smaller portion of our damage helps with our scaling, since it is a frequent example of problems with scaling since it cannot Crit, doesn’t take our Agility into account, doesn’t have a Hasted cooldown, and with the change in Shadowlands, no longer benefits from Mastery. The rest of Windwalker is largely unchanged, so the small improvement in scaling isn’t likely to stop it from being an issue.
Blizzard also took some steps going into Shadowlands to limit the potential scaling for specs that mindlessly stack one stat. Wowhead has a great article about it, but the gist is that the more you have of one stat, the less getting additional points in that stat will help you. So where a spec may have just stacked one stat, they’ll start to see diminishing returns on doing so, which may prompt them to vary things up a bit. The nice thing is that since Windwalkers generally look for a balance in all our stats, this isn’t a change that’s likely to affect us very much, which is an indirect benefit to how we’ll scale relative to the specs that do stack one or two stats to a very high level.
There are three things that you should know about Windwalker and Scaling, and if you are reading this then I hope it will set your mind at ease.
Scaling problems are completely irrelevant in a game that has active balancing being done. The best example is that in Legion Windwalkers scaled worse with gear than we did in Battle for Azeroth; however, in Legion, Blizzard regularly rebalanced and checked balancing every tier and every patch, fine tuning things. In Battle for Azeroth, that attention was practically non-existent, so scaling was the law. Its impossible to predict how attentive Blizzard will be with balancing, but they have the power to make Scaling something that no one knows about or cares about again.
And before you start freaking out about how Blizzard hates Windwalker and Windwalker gets nerfed anytime its good; just stop. While there is evidence of this, the times that it happened were all done with very clearly visible goals in mind. In Uldir, when Windwalker saw a big chunk of its Touch of Karma and Touch of Death damage decreased, dropping it on the meters, those of us that knew this was a problem were very happy to see it fixed, even if it cost us some damage. Similarly, when Swift Roundhouse was nerfed, it was clear that they wanted to stop the problem of one Azerite Trait being incredibly overpowered and Windwalkers dropping things like Fists of Fury from the rotation.
I’m the guy with all the data, and you can trust me that there’s no credence to the fearmongering that because Windwalker is slightly above average, that we’ll be nerfed. And yes, currently Windwalker is “statistically slightly above the average”. As of the end of the 3rd week of Nyalotha, Windwalker was 4.55% above the mean. Given the distribution of data, anything within 5.75% above or below the mean would technically be considered “average” according to the statistics. Historically, Blizzard has nerfed outliers, and where Windwalker is currently, is very much safely, not an outlier. While something like Calculated Strikes being so overwhelming in AOE may justify it being tuned down slightly, there’s nothing that I can look at that tells me that Windwalker is jonesing for a nerf, and even if one came, we have room to spare right now.
The biggest reason to not care about scaling right now is the position that Windwalker is in right now. Scaling is a problem that takes you from the middle to the bottom over the course of the expansion, it doesn’t take you from the top to the bottom over the course of a week or a raid tier like some of the tin-foil hat people on Discord seem to believe. Using the above examples from Nyalotha, if Windwalker and Fire Mage had their scaling swapped, but their starting points the same, then Fire Mage would have ended at 108,419.5 dps and Windwalker would have ended at 111,628.6 dps, with a very small gap of less than 3%, and that was in the most exaggerated example of scaling differences in years, the future likely won’t be as disparate.
Windwalker has ground that we can give up slowly due to scaling without it being a problem.
Windwalker has always been a spec that people play because they love it and its fun, not because its strong or popular. Right now we may be seeing a confluence of loving it, it being fun, AND it being strong, which will make it more popular. World of Warcraft is a game, and games are meant to be fun, so I hope that even if the worst possible situation happens and Windwalker’s damage falls to the demon of scaling again, no matter how long-term or unlikely of a problem that is, the fun will remain.
The simplest thing to say is that Windwalker is good now. Don’t be looking months or years down the road at what could be, just enjoy what is now. And if someone comes at you with “BuT mY sCaLiNg?!?!” just link them this article and tell them that Snarkylonius says to shut up.