Windwalker Monks in Shadowlands: Bug Fixes and the Future
Windwalker has been at the forefront of many discussions during Shadowlands. Whether it's the sudden rise from the dredges that was Ny'alotha, to top of the Race to World First in Castle Nathria under the stellar performance of
of <Limit>, to the recent saga of bug fixes, loss of damage, and the ensuing storm that followed; Windwalker has gotten more attention from the community, and for Blizzard (for good or ill) in the last few months than it has in most of the previous years combined.
Due to the recent bug fixes for Windwalkers, I’m delving into the history of Windwalker Monks and going over some of the finer points of the spec, mainly from a PvE perspective as that’s what I’ve done almost exclusively since I started playing in Burning Crusade and since I started Monk in the early weeks of Mists of Pandaria.
About the Author
This guide is written and maintained by Babylonius; former moderator on MMO-Champion; current owner and administrator of the
PeakofSerenity Monk class discord
; founder and Windwalker author of the Monk Class site,
and those that came before it; Guild Master and Midweek Raider in
Occasional Excellence on US-Area 52
; Windwalker main since early Mists of Pandaria, guide writer/theorycrafter/teacher for almost that whole time.
Windwalker has been around since Monk was introduced in Mists of Pandaria and for the majority of that time, with the exception of the start of Highmaul in Warlords of Draenor and Antorus, the Burning Throne at the end of Legion, has “enjoyed” a relative grey area where it's generally not been strong or popular enough for people to notice, nor quite fallen to the meme level of specs like Survival, Enhancement, and other specs like that. However, when looking back at
how specs have shaken out over the last few expansions
, Windwalkers have maintained a position of below average performance in raids. This has been, somewhat, supplemented by generally above average performance in PvP and Mythic+, but for those that enjoy Raiding, this hasn’t been much of a compensation.
Mythic Spec Power History
At the end of Ny'alotha, Windwalker was at an all-time low. This was due to a combination of exceptionally poor use of Corruption and a lack of balance tuning to help Windwalker’s very poor scaling throughout that expansion. Things were rough in the Eternal Palace, but got exponentially worse with the addition of Corruption and higher gear levels in Nyalotha. This merely contributed to the general WoW community perception that Windwalkers were “undesirable”, “unviable”, and all the other buzzwords that Windwalkers heard frequently as why they couldn’t join the Heroic Raid they outgeared or the +10 that they had twice the R.IO score for. The negative perception that the community has against Windwalker has persisted through the times Windwalker was weak and was largely unaffected by the times that Windwalker was strong.
Going into the Shadowlands Alpha and Beta, the general sentiment was that Windwalker was going to need quite a lot of attention to get back on track, and expectations of that were at an all time low. While Windwalker went mostly untouched through much of the pre-expansion cycle, there were some changes that happened toward the end of September, which I talked about on
. These changes were generally positive, with the hope of more to come. Many people felt that it wasn’t going to be enough, but the general assumption was that Windwalker would likely start Shadowlands being around the middle of the pack, and then our concerns about scaling would drag it down. Obviously, as hindsight will tell us, we were underestimating things a little bit.
Rise in Performance in Shadowlands
Early on into Shadowlands, it became evident that we were a little behind in our expectations and that Windwalker was performing better than we expected. This was put into the spotlight when Trill consistently topped the meters as we all watched Limit win the Race to World First. While
is, and has always been, an exceptional player and an exceptional Windwalker, not all of his success can be attributed to his own skill. Windwalker in Shadowlands was the perfect storm of strong numbers, strong synergy between the Kyrian Covenant,
, and encounters in Raid and M+ that rewarded 2-minute cooldowns. It also was very strong in PvP and saw strong representation in nearly all competitive levels of the game; MDI, AWC, and RWF. This spotlight on the strength of Windwalker resulted in a HUGE increase in the population of the spec, nearly doubling the number of Windwalkers in Mythic raiding.
The Helpful Bugs Get Fixed
One of the other things that was helping prop up Windwalker was, admittedly, bugs. Windwalker has a log history of bugs, especially ones that exist around
As we geared up throughout the Alpha/Beta cycle, the list of bugs for Windwalkers, Mistweaver, and Brewmasters quickly grew to over 100.
Early on in Shadowlands Pre-Expansion patch, a bug that
to trigger any time
were both on cooldown, quickly became a fan favorite and one that just felt right. Unfortunately, it was “fixed’ shortly thereafter and set up what felt like a trend of beneficial bugs being fixed.
9.0.5 PTR and Live
Fast forward to a few weeks into Shadowlands and a few more bugs had become obvious. The newest one was that
was not dropping off when targets died, allowing for Windwalkers to keep maximum
stacks with less targets. This came in handy in raid fights with multiple targets, Mythic+, or PvP where it simplified the handling of the
mechanic and allowed Windwalkers to do more AOE damage than they would have otherwise. Although the extra damage was great, in my opinion, the biggest benefit of this was that it allowed new players to maximize the benefit of
without the effort that it would normally require. Windwalkers used this to take their strong AOE damage to the highest levels, putting them competing with some of the best DPS in AOE situations.
Another bug that came to the spotlight was the fact that when
was up, they would continue to channel
even if you cancelled your own channel of it. This was a bug that Windwalkers who PvP had known for a long time because it allowed you to cast other things while they still channeled
and they’d also cast those too, dramatically increasing the burst potential for Windwalkers. However, with the loss of the
Azerite Trait, Windwalkers found that
did low enough damage to merit utilizing this trick in PvE for the first time. For the record, this trick arose from an intentional change that was made to how
operated in Warlords and Legion and was done so that
would not miss out on damage they should do. Because of this, I’ve always been hesitant to call it a “bug” because it was, technically, done intentionally.
However, a few days before 9.0.5 was announced, the intrepid bug scouts on the PTR found that these “bugs” were no longer around. This sparked a large amount of testing and a greater than zero amount of freaking out. Windwalker still had plenty of other bugs, and yet the ones that increased our damage were the ones that were “fixed”.
While it’s clear that these changes were intended to fix things that were not working correctly, it's impossible to view these things as strictly bug fixes and ignore the loss of damage that came with it.
On Patch Day
In addition to the above fixes, as happens any time
is tinkered with, new bugs appeared. For a period of time,
simply didn’t work at all,
in any damage and was, inexplicably, capped at 5 stacks, and during
provided no cooldown reduction. While the addition of new bugs was predictable, since it came as the result of fixing bugs that increased our damage, new ones that further reduced our damage.
The Tuesday that 9.0.5 came out in North America,
was insanely busy with people trying to figure out the fate of Windwalker, as it still is. The moments that servers went live, there was a mad dash to see if any of the new bugs had been fixed. Unfortunately, we first discovered that the issues with
were not fixed and chaos ensued.
However, within 20 minutes of us finding they were still broken, they were fixed. It was the closest to
that I’ve ever done. While it didn’t calm the concern in
as much as I would have liked, it did continue to show that there was someone at Blizzard HQ (although probably technically at home) putting the time in to improve Windwalker, even if the 9.0.5 changes did come at the cost of some damage.
Thursday, Mar 11
On Wednesday, Wowhead asked me to put together a short statement to include in an article about bugs that still exist with various specs, so I put one together that highlighted the problems that still existed among Windwalkers based on forum posts by Mickey (US) and Big Sad (EU).
You can find it here.
Class Bugs with Prot Warrior and WW Monk
Within approximately 3 hours of this post going up, the two bugs that had been listed as “Major”,
hitting 5 targets instead of 6 and
damage by the full 200% were both fixed in the daily
While it's impossible to say whether or not the two things were connected, it's certainly coincidental if nothing else and continued to show that whoever is watching over Windwalker in these difficult times is still there trying to fix the things that are broken.
The nice thing about these bugs being fixed is that they directly increased Windwalker’s damage in AOE and cleave situations, which was an area that Windwalker was hit the hardest with 9.0.5. While it isn't completely breakeven, it's closer to neutral than it was on Wednesday.
Results of the Bug Fixes
Over the past few days, and into the next few, I have been tracking the differences between specs in 9.0.5. Obviously the changes to Windwalkers hurt, but there were other pieces being moved around with this patch, so I wanted to be sure that I had as much of the full picture as possible. Given my penchant for tracking data through
, I turned there for Raid data. Unfortunately there isn’t a clean or easy way to get large samples of data for Mythic+ or PvP in terms of numerical performance, so Raid data has to suffice. You can, theoretically use the raid data as a rough comparison for other content, like using AOE boss fights as similar to situations of Mythic+. It's far from a perfect comparison, but it's better than nothing.
Pre/Post 9.0.5 Comparison Spreadsheet
My plan is to update the chart every day for the first two weeks as the sample size for 9.0 is two weeks prior to Tuesday. I may not perfectly succeed with that plan, but that's the plan for now.
As you can see, in addition to several specs jumping up higher, Windwalkers fell lower. The difference in single target bosses like
was very minor, generally dropping 1-2% in single target DPS and 0-3 places in the “rankings''. However, as easily predicted, the drop is more precipitous in AOE fights like
where Windwalker had previously been dominant. In these fights DPS has generally dropped by 5.5-9% and dropped 8-11 spots relative to others.
It's hard to compare the numbers directly between an AOE Raid fight and Mythic+, and it's likely the drop will be bigger the first few days and weeks as people adjust to the changes and having to keep
stacks up for themselves.
The changes that came on Thursday will help improve this number, but it will take a few days to see how that pans out. If you’re reading this article several days later, then the sheet should be updated for you to draw your own conclusions. There is going to be some skew in the data since the changes that fixed
, resulting in more damage, came on a Thursday when a large portion of the higher ranked guilds will have raided or fully cleared on Tuesday and Wednesday. This just means it will take a little bit longer to get a better picture.
The day we found out about the changes that were coming in 9.0.5, I spent a few hours
writing an article on Peak
about the effects that they would potentially have; a 4-6% reduction in single target and a 25% reduction in AOE damage. These were meant to be a worst-case example, but still enough to justify the outrage that came from what was happening. Based on the data that we’re seeing now, it looks like we’re not near that worst case, and the changes that came on Thursday will move us further from it.
The biggest functional effect that these changes have had so far is that it “feels” significantly worse to maximize AOE damage in Mythic+ or Raids where you constantly have to monitor
stacks and restack them any time they fall off or between trash packs, where you didn’t have to before. This is something that will hit experienced players in a very minor way since that's how it was in Legion and most of BfA, but will hit all the newer players especially hard, since they don’t have that experience to fall back on. These were the players that I was hoping would come and breathe new life into the community and the spec, and keep the positivity and growth going, however that’s difficult to predict going forward.
The Future of Windwalker
The easiest thing to say about the future of Windwalker is that it's uncertain. There’s clearly things that still need to be worked on, but also things that have shown positive improvement in the last few days and, hopefully, indicate someone behind the scenes, putting in the hard work it must be to make things better.
As I talked about in an
extensive article on Peak
, Windwalker hasn’t escaped from the Sword of Damocles that is Windwalker stat scaling. It was a problem all through Legion, but frequent tuning and balancing by Blizzard rendered it a moot concern. It was a problem in Battle for Azeroth, and the lack of that re-balancing saw Windwalker slowly, then quickly, slip to the bowels of the DPS meters.
Windwalker Stat Scaling
That concern hasn’t gone away. With all the moving parts around legendaries and Covenants, its impossible to accurately predict how good or bad Windwalker scaling will be, and some of the bug fixes and changes that we’ve seen in Shadowlands should help the scaling problem, but it's unlikely to be the silver bullet that Windwalker could use after at least two, most likely four, full expansions of being one of the worst stat scaling specs.
However, like in Legion, any concern about stat scaling can be made entirely irrelevant if there is regular and adequate tuning passes done to help keep specs like Windwalkers in the hunt. Windwalker had been starting off with a bit of a lead on the scaling concerns, but with the recent loss of damage, those concerns are slightly more of a concern than before.
Like I said in the
article the other day
, there are still bugs present with Windwalkers. Although none fit the “major” category anymore, there are ones that simply change how things play enough to notice, which often results in a loss of damage and, more often, in a loss of enjoyment.
A continued emphasis on fixing these problems can only make it easier to balance Windwalker in the future and help to squash the “bug-walker” meme.
There are literally dozens of potential solutions to some of these problems. Just pop into
and you’ll see a never ending stream of them, some better or worse than others. However, I’ll provide a few of my own ideas that I feel would help to alleviate the problems with Windwalkers, but also some of the problems that Blizzard has had, historically, with managing the spec.
While a flat Aura buff would be a solution, and one that I’d happily accept, I think there is a finer solution to solve many of the problems plaguing the spec right now. Thankfully one of these three was already addressed on Thursday.
needs to hit 6 targets instead of 5 because the tooltip says 6
This one got fixed on Thursday and helps Windwalker’s burst AOE abilities.
damage by approximately 50%.
After the loss of
lost 40-60% of the damage that it did at the end of BfA. Increasing its damage by this margin seems extreme, but is something thats consistent with how things were not too long ago.
By buffing the damage like this, it increases Windwalker’s single target damage, which is an area of weakness for Windwalker and one hit by the 9.0.5 fixes. It also increases it enough that we are very unlikely to consider things like cancelling it’s channel or occasionally dropping it from our priority like we are now.
Increasing its damage this much also helps Windwalker’s cleave which, oddly enough, is another area of weakness. There’s a grey area between single target and full AOE where a Windwalker can find there are too many targets to get much use out of single target abilities, but not enough to merit going full AOE and maximizing that damage.
has long been the “cleave button”and buffing its damage would solidify that position, helping to close a weakness for Windwalker.
to hit 100% damage to all 6 targets it hits, not just 50% to secondary targets.
This already exists in PvP or when War Mode is on, and is a HUGE boost to Windwalker’s burst AOE capabilities. However, the 50% drop off outside of these situations is very much felt, and it puts
in a situation where it may not be a priority in AOE scenarios.
Right now due to the strength of
, Windwalkers are heavily reliant on
for their AOE damage. With the changes in 9.0.5,
became a lot more tedious to maximize and Windwalkers have to decide between getting out more
and ones that hit harder. In shorter-lived trash packs there may not be time to stack up
before AOEing, so the alternative is to just use less powerful
back into more prominence in AOE and cleave helps lessen the burden placed on
, freeing up the Windwalker from abilities that can often feel like more of a hindrance than a benefit.
Beyond the above benefits, there are other secondary benefits. By increasing
damage we’ll see an increased benefit from the
conduit (which could use some buffs of its own),
legendary, which has seen buffs recently, and
which has long been an afterthought with the dominance of
in that talent row. It would also very slightly help other Covenants to compete with Kyrian as more
damage would mean that you wouldn’t clip it, so you’d get less
inside the window, and reduce the chance that we’re stuck using
, which is clearly meant to be a single target conduit, in AOE situations, freeing up
to do its job of tagging targets for us.
With the fix to
now hitting 6 targets, there may be hope for some changes in this direction, but it's impossible to predict the future.
The long term solutions are obvious, but certainly not simple.
needs to go the way of the dodo. The lore-based visual can be kept for flavor or a mechanic that simply does
for us, perhaps the toggle that it was briefly in the Legion Alpha/Beta. It could then be replaced by another cooldown that isn’t as problematic, like
. The ability has been in existence for almost exactly 8 years, and at no point in that time frame has there not been some “bug” or broken interaction, whether obvious or hidden. At some point the flavor and class fantasy has to give way to function in some way.
also needs to be given some serious attention. In Legion it was uncapped and 50% (then 40%) more damage per stack. The 10% per stack, capped at 6 stacks, is just a shadow of what it once was and given the tedium of maintaining these stacks, it's prohibitive or at least a turn-off to new players. There are many solutions from getting rid of it entirely, to using
to tag targets that you hit, but it's clear something should be done about it. It's gone from a “wow look what I can do” mechanic to “ugh, look what I have to do” mechanic.
The future of Windwalker is impossible to predict right now. It's possible that we never see another change for months, like was the case in Legion, or we continue to see positive changes and iteration like we saw in early Battle for Azeoth, some of Legion, and the past few days.
Unfortunately, many players switched to Windwalker because it was strong and now may feel they have to switch back because of the loss of damage or because they just don’t feel they can trust the spec. I had predicted last year that Windwalker would need two consecutive tiers of above average performance to erase the negative stigma that comes with the spec, and I fear that 9.0.5 did more to solidify that stigma than had Windwalker not been strong in the first place.
I am hopeful that many of the new players realized how fun the spec was and stick with it through these potential hard times because they love it, but I understand it’s very un-fun to switch to a spec only to see the rug pulled out from underneath you shortly thereafter. Ideally the above changes are made, the spec is strong again and fun to play, and people realize what they’ve been missing over the last few years, but as much as I have years of experience and perspective, that doesn’t include clairvoyance, even though people sometimes think it does.
Thank you for sticking through my long article about Windwalker. Hopefully you give it a try if you haven’t already, the Monk community will be happy to have you.
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