I know a lot of people are worried about brewmaster viability out there. I want to take this moment to reassure you that brewmasters are good tanks right now, and completely capable of clearing current raid content alongside other tanks. They are also very new tanks, and no one out there is a true expert at the class. I believe most of the worry can be traced to a general lack of knowledge of the class. We haven’t figured out many of the subtitles that come with tanking as a monk in the same way that warriors, who have had seven years to master their craft, have had.
Another culprit is that monks fly in the over-emphasized and often incorrect convention that good tanks are ones that reduce the most damage. Once you and your raid team accepts that monks take more damage over the course of a fight than other tanks, but have more control over their survivability, you will feel much better.
Monks also require more micromanagement than other tanks, and it’s very true that an afk druid will take less damage than an afk monk. That comes with the package, but it’s also not all that important because most of us are at our keyboards while tanking. You’re trading passive damage reduction for control, and if you don’t like that then you should probably play another class. Or acknowledge that mastering a monk will take more effort than mastering a more passive tank.
To help out, here are my tips for struggling monk tanks:
Don’t use your abilities as soon as they’re off cooldown — save them. Using Guard when your health is stable will reduce your damage taken, but it will do you little good in the long run, especially if it’s not available when your health dips dangerously low. Similarly, 10 seconds of Elusive Brew will not save you if you use them after that flurry of melee hits. Expel Harm will contribute much more to your survival if you use it when your health is low, when healers are panicking, than if you use it to simply top yourself off. Even with Blackout Kick/ Shuffle, you don’t need to have it up when nothing is actively hitting you and you don’t need to refresh it when you still have more than three seconds left
Try to rotate each active mitigation ability so that your damage intake is smooth. Since “afk” monks are squishy, you need to be able to compensate by watching your health, reacting to your current situation, and helping your healers. Unlike other tanks, Brewmasters are capable of always having an active mitigation ability to use, if you time it correctly. It takes a lot of mental energy to do this, but with practice it will become second nature. Give yourself some time to learn how to balance buff durations and resources.
Save Chi, don’t use it as soon as you generate it. Try to sit on 2 to 4 Chi at all times, and only spend it when you need to keep Shuffle active or right before Keg Smash comes off cooldown. This goes for energy as well — try to keep your energy high so that you have enough to spend on Keg Smash and Expel Harm immediately after they come off cooldown. Jab only when your energy is high and Keg Smash / Expel Harm are still a few seconds away from being usable. Saving your resources gives you the opportunity to react to dangerous and unpredictable situations very quickly and is vital to your survival.
Pick your level 75 talent wisely. One of your primary weaknesses in early raid content is the lack of Shield Wall-type cooldowns. To remedy this, you have to make some hard decisions. Dampen Harm and Diffuse Magic are incredibly strong abilities, but you have to pick the right one for the right encounter and use it to shore up any weakness you have during specific boss fights or phases.
Swap your talents and glyphs often. Monks have the most versatile and useful talent tree (in my opinion), and you should try swapping things around for different fights. For example, sometimes you need to move often, and sometimes you need to move quickly for more than a second. Sometimes a ranged heal comes in handy and sometimes you can’t afford to cast. It’s very cheap to experiment with talents and glyphs now, and well worthwhile.
Unless it’s a Big Predictable Damage moment, avoid using all of your active mitigation abilities at the same time. I tend to panic at moments of unexpected low health, too, but from experience I know that it’s better to use one or two mitigation tools to recover, and save others for the future.
Know your proactive vs. reactive skills and your guaranteed vs. random active mitigation. As brewmasters, we have some awesome proactive mitigation skills (Shuffle, Elusive Brew) that we can use in preparation for upcoming damage, and some strong reactive skills (Expel Harm, Purifying brew) that we can use to recover from a big attack. Some skills, like Guard, are excellent at both roles. Similarly, avoidance skills like Elusive Brew are good for keeping our health stable, but can’t be relied upon in times of instability. Use your guaranteed mitigation (Guard, Expel Harm) when your health is unstable.
Get in the habit of wiggling back and forth to pick up Gift of the Ox orbs when you’re low on health. In general, you can’t rely on these heals, but they do help if you can manage to pick some up.
You don’t need to have Shuffle active all the time, though it should be active most of the time. If your’e looking at logs, aim for 80% uptime or higher. If your health is high and you’re not taking much damage, it’s probably safe to let Shuffle drop off and store up Chi for the next burst.
Don’t forget to use Purifying Brew. This active mitigation isn’t quite so obvious as Shuffle, but it’s incredibly important to keep your damage intake low and healable.
However, you don’t need to Purifying Brew every stagger, or even every moderate stagger. Stagger counters are very important if you want to make good decisions on when to dispel the DoT. Often you will need to choose between spending 1 Chi to dispel a 15k stagger now, or wait so that you can dispel a 22k stagger in a few seconds. If your health is stable (i.e. near full and your healer can keep pumping heals onto you), you can even let a 22k stagger continue to tick, especially if that means the difference between having Shuffle active for the next big melee or taking it to the face.
Make everyone else jealous with your kiting skills. Brewmasters blow every other tank out of the water when it comes to kiting. Roll will often save you from a boss swing, and if adds are snarable you can go forever without taking damage.
Learn fights and practice. Go solo some dungeon trash or old raids and practice surviving as long as possible without a healer. No one can be an amazing monk right out of the box, and this is a surprisingly good way to learn the ins and outs of our class while teaching you to creative problem solving. This class is a lot of fun but you cannot steamroll your way to victory. Also keep in mind that healers still have to learn how to best heal monk tanks, since our damage mitigation is so incredibly different than every other tank. Your whole raid will need some time to adjust.
Remember: tanking is not about reducing your overall damage. It’s about surviving, which primarily entails working with your healers. Know when your healers will have trouble healing you, and save abilities to alleviate that stress on them.
The honest truth: it’s far more likely that you’re failing an encounter because you haven’t learned it yet than you’re failing because Blizzard is bad at balancing tanks. I wiped my raid for an hour and a half on Stone Guard because I didn’t quite understand the encounter and how to tank it on my monk. It happens to everybody, and sometimes you just have to buckle down, admit you have some learning to do, and practice.