Monk Brewmaster Tanking Active Mitigation
One of the things that Blizzard is really trying to implement with all tanks is an active mitigation system, and while the Monks system needs some fine tuning to get it right, it already feels pretty cool. The system in theory works and is fun, but suffers due to the Brewmasters very low basic mitigation, which we will discuss later.
Blizzards goal with active mitigation is for tank players to have to focus on their survivability and be active in managing their health and the healing they will require. To that end the Brewmasters have several great abilities that can help them out. The key ones that I will discuss are: Stagger, Shuffle, Purifying Brew, Guard, and Black Ox Statue.
For those not in the beta and therefore may not have seen these abilities before, dont worry they are described below.
Important: The Monk tanking spec the Brewmaster is currently going through the process of being tuned for release by players in the Beta of Mists of Pandaria so while this article covers the current state of the Monk class things are changing all the time.
Active Mitagation Abilities
Stagger is a great passive ability that you gain when in Stance of the Sturdy Ox, which just happens to be your tanking stance. What this does is take a hit that you suffer and spreads out the damage over a longer period of time. You suffer 50% of the damage that the hit was supposed to inflict, and then the remaining 50% of the damage is dealt in three ticks over the next 9 seconds. As you gain mastery the remaining 50% of the damage is lowered as well, so that at high levels you will only suffer a portion of that damage and not the full amount. Any hit against you has a passive 25% chance to proc stagger.
What this ability does is help to smooth out the damage that you suffer over time. This makes if far easier for healers to heal you and keep you alive. For instance if you suffered a 100,000 hit you would only suffer 50,000 right then, and then roughly 16,666 damage every 3 seconds for the next 9 seconds. As a tank you are likely to parry or dodge several attacks before you next suffer a hit, but if you dont this ability would help the healer make sure they can keep you alive.
This ability has undergone several changes already in the beta and I expect more before it is finalized so keep an eye on this one.
Shuffle is now a passive ability that modifies two of your basic attacks. It makes your Tiger Palm attack add a 5% boost to your next guard attack within the next 30 seconds, that can stack up to 3 times. It also makes your Blackout Kick make you stagger the next 3 melee attacks within 6 seconds.
Both of these abilities interact with your other mitigation abilities to boost them as needed. If you know a big hit is coming from a boss you can stack your guard bonus, or if you know a series of hits are coming you can ensure you stagger them.
This is an ability that works along side Stagger and therefore really well when you use shuffle with blackout kick as well. Purifying Brew instantly clears all of your staggered damage. Better yet it is only on a 6 second cooldown and only costs 1 chi to use.
This essentially means you can stagger a few attacks so that you have a few stacks of damage coming in on you, or better yet use shuffle with blackout kick to stagger three attacks to ensure you have some staggered damage, and then use a purifying brew to remove all the delayed damage. Due to the low cost of this ability and the short cooldown it becomes a staple in your rotation and really helps out with your mitigation of damage by removing huge amounts that you would take.
This is an ability that Brewmasters gain that allows them to absorb a whole lot of damage from the next big hit (or several small hits over the next few seconds) all for the cost of 2 chi which makes it really easy to use.
The problem with it is that it has a 30 second cooldown and while the ability itself is very good, we cannot use it often enough to be truly effective. However, on the flip side if the cooldown is too short a Monks tank rotation would essentially be building chi and spending it on guard.
Black Ox Statue
This ability summons a statue of a Black Ox for the Monk and his partys use. While active the statue interacts with the Monks Provoke and Leer abilities and provides 10 charges of Guard that can be gained by clicking on it. These charges can be used by anyone in the party but may be best used for the Monk for additional survivability, however during key moments of mass AOE damage the charges could help keep party or raid members alive.
Having an ox statue up provides some compensation for the long cooldown of guard, but the guard effect from the statue is not as strong as the real guard ability.
Interactions of abilities
As you can see the abilities listed above overlap and interact extremely well together.
When used together a Monk player is able to guard when they know there is a huge hit coming in so that they actively and predicatively prevent some of the incoming damage. Since guard is on a long cooldown players should ensure that they have an ox statue out and ready to use any time guard is on cooldown and you believe a big hit is incoming. This ensures that you have guard far more often than the abilities cooldown.
Monks can also stagger some of the incoming damage, or use shuffle to guard more damage or stagger a whole lot of incoming damage. Then once they have a lot of staggered damage stacked to come in over the next few ticks, they simply pop a purifying brew to remove all of it so that in never happens.
When you look at how guard, stagger, and purifying brew all work together (and therefore shuffle and ox statue which provide those abilities) they work as an ideal way to balance out damage and ensure that it affects you in a long even balanced method. Instead of taking big huge spikes of damage, which are extremely hard for healers to keep you alive through, these abilities spread it out into a steady stream over a longer period of time.
In addition the Monk class has other cooldowns and abilities that can be used, such as Fortifying Brew which grants more health for a short time but reduces healing during that time. All of these abilities seem to be well thought out to interact well as a complete package.
The way the Monk Brewmaster works seems to epitomize the active mitigation philosophy that Blizzard is currently pushing for tanks. The abilities are both interesting and engaging, making the class fun to play since you feel highly involved in what is going on. They also provide steady over time damage which is what both tanks and healers like to deal with.
The only real issue that I see so far is the tuning and balancing of these abilities to ensure the tank survives. This is mainly because of the extremely poor basic armour mitigation that the Brewmaster spec has, and buffing that may resolve the issues that players are currently seeing in beta.
Currently the Monk Brewmaster has a base armour mitigation of just over 30% which is far lower than any other tanking class by far, and even lower than many DPS classes. This is due to the armour type that they use and lack of buffs to their armour.
All this means that when a Brewmaster is not able to use abilities (due to lack of resources to spend on them or when they are on cooldown) they suffer huge spikes of damage, making them very hard or impossible to keep alive. While they have resources and cooldowns to use then they are extremely easy to heal. The difference between these phases though is far to large, and the damage spikes currently are making Monks impossible to heal through difficult fights and therefore they are already being declared not able to raid tank by many players.
Important Update: The newest beta patch has added a 20% reduction to all incoming damage while in Ox Stance, which should bring Monk Brewmaster tanks a lot closer to other tanks for mitigation. Depending on how everything else works out though, it still might not be enough.
While in their current state that might be true, dont believe for a minute that Blizzard wont step in to fix that up. Hopefully they will find a way to buff their basic armour mitigation without overdoing it and having to severely nerf their active mitigation abilities that are playing out so well right now.