Yeah, you're right. I was referring to the spikes brush too and comparing it to zbrush tools it's really more similar to the standard brush, still it's a little more flat: maybe it's due to the flat bump, I don't know.
Anyway I'm using it with less strenght, usually 10-20 so that it doesn't pull up too much, and refine with a lower value like 10 or so only for the first pass (it's brush size dependent so I adjust the values in wireframe mode to have more or less what I need for the level of detail I'm aiming at) then I deactivate it to control the poly count. I'm usually using only one of the dynamic tessellation functions at once so if I'm using refine I bring down to 0 the value of reduce and vice versa. Right now I'm using the d1 brush with no strenght only for reducing purposes.