Well! Since I have finally managed to find a little bit of time to play a monk on the beta, I decided I would spit out my first blog post in quite a while. I've gotten a little bit of experience playing Brewmaster (the tank spec) in the new 5 man, Temple of the Jade Serpent, as well as a little bit of solo play, so here are some of my initial thoughts on how things are shaping up!
At the moment, Brewmaster seems to be a pretty obviously incomplete as a tanking spec. This is absolutely fine because we are literally only weeks into a beta test that will be months long. There isn't even an in-game bug report feature yet, so I am not at all worried that my major issues with current affairs will make it to release.
First of all, the priority system is a little wonky - generally speaking, your best bet seems to be gathering up 4 Chi immediately via Jab (renamed Clobber if you have a staff or maces and Sever if you have axes or swords), and then replenishing up to 4 as soon as you use any Chi abilities - this way, you always have Chi available for your important cooldowns. Your main Chi abilities are: Guard (2 Chi), which absorbs a decent amount of damage and increases healing done to you by 30%+ (based on Mastery); Tiger Palm (1 Chi), which does damage and boosts your next Guard; Shuffle (2 Chi), a channeled ability that allows you to Stagger the next three melee attacks for 6 seconds (on a 20 second CD); and Blackout Kick (2 Chi), which can be procced (and made free) by your parries at any time, but is only useable below 35%, Execute style.
Stagger is a very interesting mechanic. In short, it cuts half the damage off an attack, then turns the other half into a 9-second DoT on you. It functions to smooth out the damage you take, and also allows your Mastery to reduce the strength of the DoT. If you have 20% Mastery and you Stagger a 100,000 damage attack, you take 50,000 damage, then 10,000 damage every 3 seconds for 9 seconds, for a total of 80,000 damage. Much like Ignite, it has a rolling, accumulating stack.
Also, similarly to Death Strike and Blood Shield Tracker, monk tanks will almost definitely need a Stagger Watch addon in order to keep track of how large the DoT currently ticking on them has become so that you can optimally make use of one of your short (45 sec) cooldowns, Purifying Brew, to remove the Stagger damage instantly. Unfortunately, at the moment, it doesn't appear that there is an interface tip to tell you how often you Stagger. The only information you can get about your Stagger is the Mastery tooltip telling you how much Stagger damage your Mastery is preventing.
Guard is another ability that needs to be looked at by the developers with a more critical eye. At the moment, it costs 2 Chi and lasts 8 seconds, but has no cooldown, meaning that as soon as the Guard absorb buff falls off, you will want to reapply it. What this means is - oh, joy - another thing to track in your interface.
The larger issue with Guard, however, is the way it interacts with your Black Ox Statue. Summon Black Ox Statue is a 1.5 sec casted ability on a 3 minute CD that places a statue at a targeted location. Note that if you're place this statue near an enemy before the pull, it WILL pull the mobs! (I learned this the hard way.) The primary mechanic for your statue is that you can click it, much like a Lightwell, and gain your Guard buff as if you had used the ability, except for free. This introduces a whole other set of problems, though.
The first is that you rely on your Ox Statue for one of your primary damage prevention abilities. I have the feeling maximum Guard uptime is going to be the best way to control your damage intake, so you are going to be using your statue as much as possible to keep it up. But your Ox Statue only has 10 Guard charges - once they're gone, they're gone, unless you recast the statue (something I would not advise if you are currently tanking - casting while tanking is a no-no!). Even this wouldn't be so bad, except for three major malfunctions.
Firstly, there is currently no way to track the number of Guard charges remaining on your statue, and the statue does not despawn when it has no charges remaining because of its interactions with other abilities (more on that in a moment). In addition, clicking the statue has a range of only about 15 yards. This means that if you need to move the boss, pick up an add, or move on to the next trash pack, your statue is now useless in that location and probably on cooldown, preventing you from relocating it. The third, and most important issue, is that ANYONE can click your statue and gain the Guard buff. This would be great if Guard wasn't so important to the monk himself, but this is one Lightwell you are going to be telling people not to click. On top of all this, clicking your statue has no cooldown and will overwrite a remaining Guard buff, meaning one dude with a vendetta/intellectual deficiency can spam click all of the charges off your statue and leave you having casted it for nothing.
Another major issue I have at the moment is already being addressed by Blizzard, fortunately. AOE tanking is quite messy because it requires a bit of a ramp up and has little initial threat. Brewmasters currently have Dizzying Haze, which is a ground-targeted AOE that deals no damage and puts a debuff on targets it hits that causes them to have a 3% chance on attacking to "Misfire" and hit themselves for a set amount of damage instead. It stacks up to three times, or 9%, and does not affect bosses. This is okay, but provides very little initial threat on the pull. The monk's other major AOE tanking skill is Breath of Fire, which costs 2 Chi and does damage in a frontal cone, multiplied by the number of stacks of Dizzying Haze on the targets (I was getting crits upwards of 110k (!) per mob in a 5 man). Unfortunately, if you pull with three Dizzying Hazes, you are out of energy to build Chi with Clobber to use Breath of Fire and invariably lose aggro on the mobs to an AOEing DPS, or possibly even the healer. On top of that, Clobber doesn't deal all that much damage, so you can even lose threat on the mob you're attacking for Chi.
Like I said, though, luckily for us, Blizzard is addressing this problem in an upcoming beta patch (as datamined by MMO-Champion). Tiger Palm will no longer cost Chi for Brewmasters, meaning we have a better way to maintain threat without preventing us from using Guard normally (another problem with AOE pulls). Also, Dizzying Haze's cost is being reduced from 40 energy to 10, which could allow you to throw a few quick Clobbers into a Breath of Fire to help that initial pull threat. Blackout Kick is also being changed, reduced to 1 Chi cost from 2, and instead of being an Execute, will be useable at any time, dealing more damage as a DoT to enemies below 50% health, a much more interesting ability, I think.
All this said, I do think Brewmaster has a ton of potential to be an extremely engaging class to tank with, but Blizzard has a lot of work to do to make it completely playable. This is true of every class, though, and I have no doubt that with enough good feedback, by the time Mists goes gold, we'll have a hell of an expansion to preorder!