With so many people picking up Windwalker this expansion, we have been getting a lot of questions in Discord about how Storm, Earth, and Fire works. While for those of us that have been playing Windwalker for years may easily gloss over these questions as being silly, there has been quite the history with this spell and the recent addition of Coordinated Offensive has made it very difficult for new players to really understand how best to use this hallmark of the Windwalker spec.
So I’m going to take some time to explain the history of Storm, Earth, and Fire, where it comes from, why many people consider it a scourge on the spec, but mainly how to use it now. So if you’re just here to learn how to use it now, then feel free to skip ahead; I’m sure it’s not going to be a short journey to get there the long way. It’s been a few months since I wrote, so there’s no way this will be brief.
Mists to Warlords
Storm, Earth, and Fire was added to the Windwalker toolkit in 5.2 when Throne of Thunder was released. When it was first released it was a pseudo-toggle that was used to split our damage onto multiple targets. You would target what you wanted to damage and cast Storm, Earth, and Fire on it, causing a clone of yourself to zip over to that target and start attacking it. Having one clone out would result in you and the clone doing 60% of your normal damage. You could repeat this on to another target and do 45% to each target.
The point of the ability wasn’t really to increase your damage, although it definitely did that, especially when it was increased to 70%/70% and 55%/55%/55%; the point was to spread out your damage on to multiple targets; something that Windwalker was nearly unparalleled in doing at the time. If you needed to hit multiple targets, Windwalker was great, and if you needed to hit multiple targets that were far apart, there were few specs better.
A lot of people look back at this time as a golden-age of Storm, Earth, and Fire and while I can see where they’re coming from, I have to fervently disagree for a plethora of reasons. The biggest reason among all of them is how unintuitive the ability was for new players. Many new players looked at the ability and assumed that if it gave you 40% more damage when the clones were out, that would work for a single target. So you’d get people putting two clones on one target with the assumption that they’d be doing 60% more damage, when in reality they’d be doing 45% less damage. This is because if the clones were on the same target as each other, or as you, they’d just cease to do anything, much as people report they sometimes do now.
This brings to another problem with the ability, the extra attention it took to micromanage it. It took one click to put it on a target, and another to take it off, for each clone. These casts were off the GCD, so you could do them at the same time as doing other things, but then that just increased the split attention rather than alleviated it. If the target you put them on died, they just disappeared, they didn’t switch to a new target like they do now.
It took us many months, or even years, to come up with a weakaura/addon that helped to tell us when our clones were on what targets and alert us if they were on the same target. Sure, in that time a lot of people got very good at managing them, but even the best with it still had to put extra thought into it. I can say that, I was one of the best at it back then before I made my first site to help others.
Beyond the problems of learning how to use it, it took us more than a full expansion’s worth of time to really start to understand that things with Storm, Earth, and Fire weren’t working the way we thought, or the way they should. I can still remember when Hinalover discovered that Storm, Earth, and Fire clones did not automatically copy your Tiger Palm buff or your Rising Sun Kick debuff, you had to reapply them AFTER you summoned Storm, Earth, and Fire into the world. This started the long journey of trying to figure out what else doesn’t work the way that it should as it should.
Legion to Now
When Legion came out, Blizzard went through a few iterations of changing how Storm, Earth, and Fire worked in order to get away from the heavy micromanagement that was required during Mists and Warlords. I was personally very happy for this change because I felt it lowered the barrier for entry and made the spec more appealing and easier to understand for new players. Others hated that mere for that fact, elitist jerks.
The first attempt at a change to Storm, Earth, and Fire was to make it a toggle that didn’t come with the increase damage, but was purely to spread damage and the new Mark of the Crane mechanic that they added in Legion. At the time the clones were smarter than the previous iteration, in that they went places on their own, but not quite as smart as they are now. This was a short lived iteration, but one that I think really could have been looked at more than it was, if nothing else but for the reason that you could toggle Storm, Earth, and Fire on and hang out with your multi-colored clones, it was visually awesome.
But, alas, Blizzard settled on a similar iteration to what we have now, a burst damage cooldown with a 90-second cooldown and 15-second duration that functions both as a way to spread Mark of the Crane and a way to increase your damage. Gone are the days of losing damage if you’re attacking the same target as them, gone are the days of having to micromanage each and every target switch. There were the days of watching them yeet themselves to East Jabib, watching them stand around and do nothing because you decided to press Fists of Fury to soon after summoning them, or just screaming at them because they decided they NEEDED to face outwards while they Hadouken their CB into the pack of mobs you were trying to avoid.
Thankfully, since the start of Legion, they have been made to be a lot smarter, or at least a lot less dumb. There have been massive improvements to how their AI works, what they can and cannot do, and ways to lessen the potential for damage loss. For example, they no longer cast CB even when you do, so no risk of them pulling things unintentionally, you now only have yourself to blame. They also don’t “technically” need to be in melee range visually to hit something with a melee attack, cutting down damage loss as they zip around from target to target. They do still stand around being dumb, but not as often as they used to, and a lot of times its just visual rather than functional.
Now in Shadowlands we have the addition of Coordinated Offensive, a conduit that seems to have muddied the waters for new players to understand what Storm, Earth, and Fire does and how to use it. Months into the expansion we are still getting questions from people that have now played Windwalker for months but don’t even know that Storm, Earth, and Fire will bop around spreading Mark of the Crane for you, hence this article. A conduit that was meant to simplify what the ability does has seemingly made it harder for new players to really learn the maximum potential that the ability has. Oh well..
I put bugs in quotations because, over the years of working around Storm, Earth, and Fire, it has been very difficult, if not downright impossible, to determine what is an unintended function, a true bug, or just a side effect of something else.
I mentioned above the realization that the Tiger Palm buff and Rising Sun Kick debuff had to be reapplied every time you summoned your clones; thankfully, on many fights, this really only had to be done once or twice, unless you were casting it constantly on new targets, which did happen occasionally.
As we looked further under the hood we found a variety of things, some even continuing to exist today. A great example of this is in Hellfire Citadel with the Soul Capactior. When this trinket would be triggered and it would funnel its damage into the trinket to explode, we quickly found that the trinket was only considering your damage, and not the damage of your clones. This meant that if you had one clone out when the trinket started taking your damage, you’d only funnel 70% of your normal damage into it, or 55% with two clones out, so the trinket would do less damage with Storm, Earth, and Fire out than it would with them.
Blizzard adjusted for this by making it so that if you had one clone out, your damage going into the trinket would be increased to compensate, making it roughly a break-even. Anyone who has played Windwalker knows that this fix is one that’s happened a lot of other times, as things like trinkets and external damage sources not working with Storm, Earth, and Fire has become the rule, not the exception. When something new comes into the game, whether its a new ability, new mechanic, new trinket, set bonus, conduit, or whatever new system gets added, there is a nearly 100% chance that it will not place nicely with Storm, Earth, and Fire out of the box and will require some form of tweaking to make it not a DPS loss to stack your cooldowns, something that historically is best to do. Often these tweaks and fixes come quickly and before anyone is able to play with the new things on live, but sometimes they come days or weeks or months after they’re introduced. Thankfully, as its been very clear that this is the reality of the ability, designers and developers are getting speedier in their identification and fixes… most of the time.
It is unlikely that Storm, Earth, and Fire will ever be completely fixed, many of us believe that it has to be the most confusingly coded ability in the existence of the game, maybe in existence itself. We know that the person who created it was very proud of it, and worked very hard on it, but hasn’t worked at Blizzard in years. It had some holes back then, and after he left some of them got fixed by someone else, which is never an ideal situation in coding. Then the rework in Legion essentially took the infrastructure that was there and adapted it for the newer version, rather than a ground-up remake, which is never an ideal situation in coding. Now several expansions later its been quick-fix and band-aid after band-aid, to where the joke is that to fully fix Storm, Earth, and Fire would require a complete re-code of the entire game, as the code for Storm, Earth, and Fire is so woven into the fabric of the game that its basically Skynet waiting to become self-aware. This is why many people have advocated for major changes to it over the years, which I will touch on later.
So here’s what you really came here to read, 1800 words just to get to the important part. “How does Storm, Earth, and Fire work?” “How do I play it?”.
How they Work
Storm, Earth, and Fire has a few mechanics and things that it can do. When you press the button you summon two copies of yourself. These copies mimic most of your damaging Monk abilities when you press them. It is specific to damaging Monk abilities, as using a trinket won’t result in them doing anything. They also don’t copy healing abilities like Vivify or movement ones like Roll. This generally isn’t a problem as they take 99% reduced damage from AOE abilities, and they do zip themselves around rather quickly.
When they’re summoned you, and each clone, deals 45% of the damage you normally would with those damaging Monk abilities. In the past there have been mechanics that increased how much damage they deal, and this expansion we have Coordinated Offensive, WHICH ONLY INCREASES THEIR DAMAGE WHEN THEY’RE MANUALLY FIXATED.
The Storm, Earth, and Fire clones have two states, we can call them Base and Fixated. Their Base functionality is when you see them zipping between targets quickly. Their biggest priority when they’re unfixated, is to jump around and tag targets with Mark of the Crane. As long as you’re at less than 5 stacks of Mark of the Crane and there are untagged targets, they will bop around copying our abilities, and tagging them when you use an ability that would tag a target; Tiger Palm, Fist of the White Tiger, Blackout Kick, or Rising Sun Kick. This allows you to tag up to 5 targets in 2 GCD, as they will not tag targets that are already tagged with Mark of the Crane. As soon as all targets are tagged or you’re at 5 tagged targets, they stop bouncing around until one of those situations change.
Once you press your Storm, Earth, and Fire button to summon them, it changes to SEF:Fixate. Once you press the button again and they are fixated for the remainder of the time they are active. THERE IS NO WAY TO UN-FIXATE THEM. When they are fixated they stop bouncing around to other targets, so you will not generate any additional Mark of the Crane stacks unless you are generating them yourself or fixating them on another target. You can, this way, focus their damage into a single target in situations where you need them to. You can also use this to centralize them in a group of mobs for maximum AOE coverage once you have enough Mark of the Crane stacks, as they will always look to stand behind their targets, which can put them at the edge of a group of mobs and sometimes miss hitting a target with Spinning Crane Kick or Whirling Dragon Punch.
How to: Single Target
Using Storm, Earth, and Fire in single target is relatively easy. Press Storm, Earth, and Fire, do more damage. Because Storm, Earth, and Fire is off the GCD, you’ll want to use it “at the same time” but slightly before a damaging ability to maximize the value with less blank GCDs during the buff. If you are using Coordinated Offensive as one of your conduit then you DO need to press the button again to get the value of the conduit. If you are not using Coordinated Offensive as your conduit then you don’t have to do anything else after you summon them, just enjoy the damage.
Because single target doesn’t care about Mark of the Crane stacks, you’ll generally want to wait to use Storm, Earth, and Fire until you’re ready to use a hard-hitting ability like Rising Sun Kick, as abilities like Tiger Palm, Fist of the White Tiger, and Blackout Kick are just not as much of an efficient use of the time that Storm, Earth, and Fire is up; you’ll use often use them during the buff, but you don’t want to lead off with it.
Your goal, for single target, should be to get as many Rising Sun Kick, Fists of Fury, and Whirling Dragon Punch into the 15 second duration. During normal cases, this means two Rising Sun Kick, one Fists of Fury, and one Whirling Dragon Punch. During periods of high haste, like during ID or BL, or PI, or all of the above, you can fit in three or even four Rising Sun Kick into the 15-second duration. This is why you generally start your Storm, Earth, and Fire window with Rising Sun Kick, to maximize your chance of getting more casts in there. There are, theoretically, ideal orders of what you should press to maximize your damage at different haste levels, but the number of permutations are too much to make that a reasonable thing to do. Just start with Rising Sun Kick, and use it every time its up, if you are super high haste levels (+50%) , then make sure you get Fists of Fury and Whirling Dragon Punch into the window early just in case you can fit them in a second time, but if you’re not at that level of haste then you’ll only get one of each, so just as long as they happen once in the window, you’re all good.
How to: AOE
In AOE things are a little bit more complicated, but not much. Similar to When you summon them, they will bounce around hitting targets to stack up Mark of the Crane until you’re out of targets to tag or at 5 targets. This enables you to triple the speed at which you can stack up Mark of the Crane. If you enter a pack of mobs and press Storm, Earth, and Fire then Fist of the White Tiger and Tiger Palm to generate 5 Chi, you will be at 5 stacks of Mark of the Crane, or 5 if you changed targets for the Tiger Palm to one that had not been marked. At that point you are free to spam out your AOE abilities for maximum damage.
If you are using Coordinated Offensive then you’ll still want to go through the above order, but after you hit 5 stacks of Mark of the Crane, you’ll want to hit SEF:Fixate in order to get that damage bonus. You can hit it earlier if you have leftover Mark of the Crane stacks from a previous pack or can manage getting the rest yourself, but generally taking 2 GCD to let them help you is the most time-efficient. Just a reminder; once you SEF:Fixate, they won’t be un-fixated. So you will have to manually maintain any Mark of the Crane debuffs on targets. You’ll generally have to any way since Storm, Earth, and Fire lasts 20 seconds and so does Mark of the Crane. Back before 9.0.5 when Mark of the Crane lasted 10 seconds, this was a lot more of a problem, but its less-so now. Most of the time once you summon and tag, Mark of the Crane will outlast the Storm, Earth, and Fire clones by a second or two.
Similar to single target, you can only get so many casts of things inside the Storm, Earth, and Fire window. This means outside of high haste you’ll want to get one Whirling Dragon Punch and one Fists of Fury into the window and fill the rest of the time with Spinning Crane Kick.
I’ve talked about this a few times, and for anyone that came just for how to play Storm, Earth, and Fire, feel free to zone out now, but there are some changes that can be made to how Storm, Earth, and Fire works to make it less intrusive and play nicer with other things.
The biggest and easiest change, at least from my completely uneducated-in-coding perspective, is to change the ability so that you do 100% damage and each clone does 15%-20% of your damage. It limits the amount of “split cleave” that you can do, but that hasn’t been the purpose of this ability in a long time. At least, with that change, anything that gets tossed into the game won’t be a DPS decrease when Storm, Earth, and Fire is out like it often can be.
Other ideas are focusing Storm, Earth, and Fire into a Mark of the Crane tagging function, such as a 15s CD that doesn’t increase your damage, but they bop around tagging targets for you, maybe even increasing the cap on Mark of the Crane during that time so it becomes an AOE cooldown.
There’s quite a lot of people that just feel the ability should be deleted or returned to its original state, and the longer we go, and the more often it has more problems than benefits, the more likely I am to agree with them. Its impossible to say what the future will hold for Storm, Earth, and Fire, but barring something magical or surprising happens, we’ll probably be dealing with continued weirdness for many years to come.
If you like the content that I, and the others at PeakofSerenity provide, then please support us through Patreon, PayPal, or buying Peak Merchandise. If you have any questions you can ask in Discord. I also stream most of my guide writing (which I did for this article) and playing through Twitch, post guides on Youtube, and occasionally Tweet.
G8 article really helpful and I an already a patron as your content is my wow bible.
amazing article, very well put together
Great write up. As a monk player since its introduction in MoP, it was a nice walk down memory lane reading through SEF’s history.
I seem to be an outlier when it comes to veteran monk players as I don’t want to see the ability removed from the game. I think it’s incredibly thematic and a staple ability of the class. I think its current iteration is the best for the health of the game, i.e. ease of use for newer players and just enough of a skill ceiling for the hardcore. However, with that being said, I wouldn’t be disappointed if they make the first change suggested in this write up; you deal 100% damage and the clones deal 15-20%. If this helps resolve the issues with trinket “bugs” then I’d be fine with it.
Anyway, again thanks for the article. It was very enjoyable to read and hopefully helps people along the way.